But medication and insulin can actually increase your risk getting a heart attack or dying.
What you are not hearing about is another way to deal with this epidemic.
Today, I want to review in detail a new way to think about diabetes and next week I want to tell you exactly how to prevent, treat, and reverse it.
Let’s get started.
The diabetes epidemic is accelerating along with the obesity epidemic.
Type 2 diabetes, or what was once called adult onset diabetes, is an increasing worldwide epidemic affecting nearly 100 million people -- and over 20 million Americans.
We are seeing increasing rates of Type 2 diabetes, especially in children, which has increased over 1,000 percent in the last decade and was unknown before this generation. One in three children born today will have diabetes in their lifetime.
Yet this is an entirely preventable lifestyle disease.
In a report in “The New England Journal of Medicine,” Walter Willett, MD, PhD, and his colleagues from the Harvard School of Public Health demonstrated that 91 percent of all Type 2 diabetes cases could be prevented through improvements lifestyle and diet.
==> The Road to Diabetes Starts Early
Diabetes is often undiagnosed until its later stages. Insulin resistance, when the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin, is primarily what causes diabetes.
When your diet is full of empty calories, an abundance of quickly absorbed sugars and carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, etc.), the body slowly becomes resistant to the effects of insulin and needs more to do the same job of keeping your blood sugar even.
High insulin levels are the first sign of a problem. The high insulin leads to an appetite that is out of control, and increasing weight gain around the belly.
High levels of insulin are warning signs -- they precede Type 2 diabetes by decades.
Insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome associated with it is often accompanied by increasing central obesity, fatigue after meals, sugar cravings, high triglycerides, low HDL, high blood pressure, problems with blood clotting, as well as increased inflammation.
These clues can often be picked up decades before anyone ever gets diabetes -- and may help you prevent diabetes entirely.
If you have a family history of obesity (especially around the belly), diabetes, early heart disease, or even dementia you are even more prone to this problem.
Most people know about the common complications of diabetes such as heart attacks, strokes, amputations, blindness, kidney failure, and nerve damage. Some may even know that it increases your risk of dementia and cancers and can cause impotence.
But most people don’t realize that insulin resistance or pre-diabetes can be just as bad causing heart attacks, strokes, dementia, cancer, and impotence -- decades before you get diabetes.
In fact many people with pre-diabetes never get diabetes, but they are at severe risk just the same.
==> Living in Harmony with Our Genes
We were highly adapted to a nutrient-dense, low-sugar, high-fiber diet rich in omega 3 fats. But when we eat out of harmony with our genes, we turn on genes that promote diabetes.
Take Arizona’s Pima Indians, for example.
They were thin and fit 100 years ago, living on a diet of over 70 percent carbohydrates. They ate high-fiber, unprocessed plant foods and they had no diabetes or obesity.
Now, in just one generation, they are nearly all obese and 80 percent have diabetes by the time they are 30 years old!
It is important to diagnose Type 2 diabetes early, but it is often not diagnosed until very late.
In fact, all doctors should aggressively diagnose pre-diabetes decades before diabetes occurs, and before any damage is done to your body. Damage begins with even slight changes in insulin and blood sugar.
Unfortunately, there is a continuum of risk from slightly abnormal insulin and blood sugar to full blown diabetes. This should be addressed as early as possible on the continuum.
In a recent study, anyone with a fasting blood sugar of over 87 was at increased risk of diabetes. The lowest risk group had a blood sugar less than 81.
Most doctors are not concerned until the blood sugar is over 110 -- or worse, over 126, which is diabetes. Therefore, I recommend early testing with anyone who has a family history of Type 2 diabetes, central abdominal weight gain or abnormal cholesterol.
Don’t wait until your sugar is high.
==> Testing for Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
The tests I recommend include the following:
Insulin glucose challenge test with 2-hour glucose challenge, 75 grams measuring fasting, 1 and 2 hour blood sugar AND insulin. Your blood sugar should be less than 80 fasting and never rise above 110 or 120 after one to two hours. Your insulin should be less than 5 fasting and should never rise above 30 after one to two hours. I recommend this test for everyone over 50, and for anyone with any risk of insulin resistance, even children.
The hemoglobin A1C is an important measure of glycated hemoglobin, which can be an early indicator of sugar problems. It measures sugars and proteins combining into glycated proteins called AGEs (advanced glycation end products), like the crust on bread, or the crispy top on crème brule. These create inflammation, oxidative stress throughout the body, and promote heart disease and dementia and accelerating aging. The hemoglobin A1C should ideally be less than 5.5. Anything over 6 is considered diabetes.
Lipid profiles are important. An HDL or good cholesterol level under 60 and triglycerides over 100 should make you suspicious of insulin resistance. An HDL under 40 and a triglyceride level over 150 usually means diabetes.
An NMR lipid profile identifies the size of your cholesterol particles. With insulin resistance or Type 2 diabetes, you develop small LDL and HDL cholesterol particles. They are much more dangerous than larger particles and lead to increased risk of atherosclerosis or heart disease.
High sensitivity C-reactive protein is a measure of inflammation, one of the classic conditions that is both the cause and result of insulin resistance and diabetes. It should be less than 1, and is often associated with diabetes. In fact, anyone with a high C-reactive protein has a 1,700 percent increased risk of getting diabetes.
Homocysteine is often abnormal in people with diabetes. It is a measure of folic acid deficiency. It should be between 6 and 8.
Fibrinogen measures your risk of clotting, which can cause heart attacks and strokes. It is also a sign of inflammation and is associated with insulin resistance and diabetes. It should be less than 300.
Ferritin levels are often elevated. It is a nonspecific marker of inflammation associated with diabetes. It also can mean an overload of iron in the body. It should be less than 150.
Uric acid should be less than 6. Higher levels indicate problems with insulin resistance. This can lead to gout, which is related to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.
Elevated liver function tests result from insulin resistance. This is the major cause of fatty liver and elevated liver function tests in this country. This is entirely due to sugar and carbohydrates in our diet that cause fatty liver, liver damage, and even cirrhosis.
These are tests any doctor can perform and are covered by insurance. I have included the interpretation with my written blog so you can know exactly where you should be.
That’s all for today.
In next week’s blog, I will tell you how to prevent, treat, and even reverse diabetes. I have seen this hundreds of times in my patients and there is no reason you can’t achieve the same thing if you apply these principles.
Till then, remember what Michael Pollan said: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Now I’d like to hear from you…
Have you been diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes?
Have you been told that it is irreversible?
What steps have you taken to prevent diabetes?
Please let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, M.D.
Olshansky SJ, Passaro DJ, Hershow RC, et al.A potential decline in life expectancy in the United States in the 21st century. N Engl J Med. 2005;352(11):1138-1145.
Beckman JA, Creager MA, Libby P. Diabetes and atherosclerosis: epidemiology, pathophysiology, and management. JAMA. 2002;287(19):2570-2581. Review.
Wald NJ, Law MR. A strategy to reduce cardiovascular disease by more than 80%. BMJ. 2003;326(7404):1419.
Franco OH, Bonneux L, de Laet C, Peeters A, Steyerberg EW, Mackenbach JP.The Polymeal: a more natural, safer, and probably tastier (than the Polypill) strategy to reduce cardiovascular disease by more than 75%. BMJ. 2004;329(7480):1447-1450. Review.
Textbook of Functional Medicine, Gig Harbor, Wash: Institute for Functional Medicine; 2006. Chapter 7, page 60-61.
Reaven GM.The metabolic syndrome: is this diagnosis necessary? Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(6):1237-1247.
Grundy SM. Does a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome have value in clinical practice? Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(6):1248-1251.
Montonen J, Knekt P, Jarvinen R, Aromaa A, Reunanen A. Whole-grain and fiber intake and the incidence of type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77(3):622-629.
Garg A. High-monounsaturated-fat diets for patients with diabetes mellitus: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;67(3):577S-582S.
Hu FB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, et al. Diet, lifestyle, and the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus in women. N Engl J Med. 2001;(11):790-797.
Pollan M. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. New York: Penguin Press; 2006.
Phillips C, Lopez-Miranda J, Perez-Jimenez F, McManus R, Roche HM. Genetic and nutrient determinants of the metabolic syndrome. Curr Opin Cardiol. 2006;21(3):185-193.
Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Marchie A, et al. Type 2 diabetes and the vegetarian diet. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78(3):610S-616S. Review.
Salmeron J, Hu FB, Manson JE, et al. Dietary fat intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001;73(6):1019-1026.
Gross LS, Li L, Ford ES, Liu S. Increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in the United States: an ecologic assessment. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79(5):774-779.
Gannon MC, Nuttall FQ, Saeed A, Jordan K, Hoover H. An increase in dietary protein improves the blood glucose response in persons with type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78(4):734-741.
de Mello VD, Zelmanovitz T, Perassolo MS, Azevedo MJ, Gross JL. Withdrawal of red meat from the usual diet reduces albuminuria and improves serum fatty acid profile in type 2 diabetes patients with macroalbuminuria. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(5):1032-1038.
Chandalia M, Garg A, Lutjohann D, von Bergmann K, Grundy SM, Brinkley LJ. Beneficial effects of high dietary fiber intake in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. N Engl J Med. 2000;342(19):1392-1398.
Triggiani V, Resta F, Guastamacchia E, et al. Role of antioxidants, essential fatty acids, carnitine, vitamins, phytochemicals and trace elements in the treatment of diabetes mellitus and its chronic complications. Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. 2006;6(1):77-93. Review.
Henriksen EJ. Exercise training and the antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid in the treatment of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Free Radic Biol Med. 2006;40(1):3-12. Review.
Coyne T, Ibiebele TI, Baade PD, et al. Diabetes mellitus and serum carotenoids: findings of a population-based study in Queensland, Australia. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(3):685-693.
Jiang R, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Liu S, Willett WC, Hu FB. Nut and peanut butter consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. JAMA. 2002;288(20):2554-2560.
Bhathena SJ, Velasquez MT. Beneficial role of dietary phytoestrogens in obesity and diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Dec;76(6):1191-1201. Review.
Klein S, Sheard NF, Pi-Sunyer X, et al. Weight management through lifestyle modification for the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes: rationale and strategies. A statement of the American Diabetes Association, the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, and the American Society for Clinical Nutrition. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80(2):257-263. Review.
Rosmond R, Dallman MF, Bjorntorp P. Stress-related cortisol secretion in men: relationships with abdominal obesity and endocrine, metabolic and hemodynamic abnormalities. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998;83(6):1853-1859.
In my research I've come across a lot of shocking information.
Here's a perfect example. Did you know that 98% of people who l0se weight gain it back? And even worse... 90% gain back more?
This is from a study done by the National Institute of Health... so we're not talking a mom-and-pop, do-it-yourself survey.
Those sort of numbers mean that we're really doing something wrong when it comes to weight l0ss and I'm positive that it has to do with the health information and science we're being fed.
It has to do with experts.
It has to do with books.
It has to do with research.
Here's an example I like to use to demonstrate how much of a challenge this really is.
If there was a heart medication put on the market that was supposed to prevent heart attacks and once it was put out to the public they found that 98% of the people who took the medication actually had heart attacks, there would be a huge uproar.
Companies would be sued. Class actions filed.
What's happening in the weight l0ss industry does not mirror this scenario. Even though 98% of people who lose the weight are gaining it back and dealing with all the health complications associated with the extra pounds, there's no such uproar and very few actions taken to punish the people who are promoting the mis-information.
so here's what We really need to do. We have to look at where the studies are coming from then take action.
And luckly the JAMA has done that for us...
In 2005, the Journal of the American Medical Association came out with a study that said 33% of all studies are swayed towards the group that funded them.
Oops. That's a big, big problem.
So if someone funds a study, one third of the time it's going to be swayed towards them, regardless of what the results are.
We're in a situation where 33% of the information that we're getting possibly could be based on false scientific assumptions.
If you look at the larger picture, that could mean every study put out could be tainted by a false assumption or swayed outcome.
If you build a house on a foundation that's crumbling in one corner, the house isn't going to stand straight.
So does that mean that green tea is a good source of antioxidants?
Does it mean that Vitamin D can help reverse cancer?
Does it mean that beta-carotine is good for eyesight?
We don't know for sure...
But the good news is that there are some studies that spit out the same results over and over and over again and those are the ones that we should be paying attention to and grounding our health arguments.
Search for those and you'll get some answers.
The other way it to take an intuitive approach to your health and be an evangelist. Know what you're putting into your system, question, educate yourself and take action.
Here's where you can start if you're as fired up as I am...
Very important & well-written new paper from leading oil expert Richard Heinberg -- combines a macro-level analysis of the world's food-security dilemma in light of climate, energy & environmental trends, with a call to the sustainable & organic agriculture movement to lead the world with a "focus on averting famine under crisis conditions." Forward widely!
Published on 3 Dec 2007 by Global Public Media. Archived on 3 Dec 2007.
What will we eat as the oil runs out? by Richard Heinberg
Our global food system faces a crisis of unprecedented scope. This crisis, which threatens to imperil the lives of hundreds of millions and possibly billions of human beings, consists of four simultaneously colliding dilemmas, all arising from our relatively recent pattern of dependence on depleting fossil fuels.
The first dilemma consists of the direct impacts on agriculture of higher oil prices: increased costs for tractor fuel, agricultural chemicals, and the transport of farm inputs and outputs.
The second is an indirect consequence of high oil prices - the increased demand for biofuels, which is resulting in farmland being turned from food production to fuel production, thus making food more costly.
The third dilemma consists of the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events caused by fuel-based greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is the greatest environmental crisis of our time; however, fossil fuel depletion complicates the situation enormously, and if we fail to address either problem properly the consequences will be dire.
Finally comes the degradation or loss of basic natural resources (principally, topsoil and fresh water supplies) as a result of high rates, and unsustainable methods, of production stimulated by decades of cheap energy.
Each of these problems is developing at a somewhat different pace regionally, and each is exacerbated by the continually expanding size of the human population. As these dilemmas collide, the resulting overall food crisis is likely to be profound and unprecedented in scope.
I propose to discuss each of these dilemmas briefly and to show how all are intertwined with our societal reliance on oil and other fossil fuels. I will then argue that the primary solution to the overall crisis of the world food system must be a planned rapid reduction in the use of fossil fuels in the growing and delivery of food. As we will see, this strategy, though ultimately unavoidable, will bring enormous problems of its own unless it is applied with forethought and intelligence. But the organic movement is uniquely positioned to guide this inevitable transition of the world's food systems away from reliance on fossil fuels, if leaders and practitioners of the various strands of organic agriculture are willing to work together and with policy makers.
Until now, fossil fuels have been widely perceived as an enormous boon to humanity, and certainly to the human food system. After all, there was a time not so long ago when famine was an expected, if not accepted, part of life even in wealthy countries. Until the 19th century - whether in China, France, India or Britain - food came almost entirely from local sources and harvests were variable. In good years, there was plenty - enough for seasonal feasts and for storage in anticipation of winter and hard times to come; in bad years, starvation cut down the poor, the very young, the old, and the sickly. Sometimes bad years followed one upon another, reducing the size of the population by several percent. This was the normal condition of life in pre-industrial societies, and it persisted for thousands of years.1
By the nineteenth century a profound shift in this ancient regime was under way. For Europeans, the export of surplus population to other continents, crop rotation, and the application of manures and composts were all gradually making famines less frequent and severe. European farmers, realizing the need for a new nitrogen source in order to continue feeding burgeoning and increasingly urbanized populations, began employing guano imported from islands off the coasts of Chile and Peru. The results were gratifying. However, after only a few decades, these guano deposits were being depleted. By this time, in the late 1890s, the world's population was nearly twice what it had been at the beginning of the century. A crisis was in view.
But crisis was narrowly averted through the use of fossil fuels. In 1909, two German chemists named Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch invented a process to synthesize ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen and the hydrogen in fossil fuels. The process initially used coal as a feedstock, though later it was adapted to use natural gas. After the end of the Great War, nation after nation began building Haber-Bosch plants; today the process yields 150 million tons of ammonia-based fertilizer per year, producing a total quantity of available nitrogen equal to the amount introduced annually by all natural sources combined.2
Fossil fuels went on to offer other ways of extending natural limits to the human carrying capacity of the planet.
In the 1890s, roughly one quarter of British and American cropland had been set aside to grow grain to feed horses, of which most worked on farms. The internal combustion engine provided a new kind of horsepower not dependent on horses at all, and thereby increased the amount of arable land available to feed humans. Early steam-driven tractors had come into limited use in 19th century; but, after World War I, the effectiveness of powered farm machinery expanded dramatically, and the scale of use exploded throughout the twentieth century, especially in North America, Europe, and Australia.
Chemists developed synthetic pesticides and herbicides in increasing varieties after World War II, using knowledge pioneered in laboratories that had worked to perfect explosives and other chemical warfare agents. Petrochemical-based pesticides not only increased crop yields in North America, Europe, and Australia, but also reduced the prevalence of insect-borne diseases like malaria. The world began to enjoy the benefits of "better living through chemistry," though the environmental costs, in terms of water and soil pollution and damage to vulnerable species, would only later become widely apparent.
In the 1960s, industrial-chemical agricultural practices began to be exported to what by that time was being called the Third World: this was glowingly dubbed the Green Revolution, and it enabled a tripling of food production during the ensuing half-century.
At the same time, the scale and speed of distribution of food increased. This also constituted a means of increasing human carrying capacity, though in a more subtle way. The trading of food goes back to Paleolithic times; but, with advances in transport, the quantities and distances involved gradually increased. Here again, fossil fuels were responsible for a dramatic discontinuity in the previously slow pace of growth. First by rail and steamship, then by truck and airplane, immense amounts of grain and ever-larger quantities of meat, vegetables, and specialty foods began to flow from countryside to city, from region to region, and from continent to continent.
The end result of chemical fertilizers, plus powered farm machinery, plus increased scope of transportation and trade, was not just an enormous leap in crop yields, but a similar explosion of human population, which has grown over six-fold since [the] dawn of [the] industrial revolution.
However, in the process, conventional industrial agriculture has become overwhelmingly dependent on fossil fuels. According to one study, approximately ten calories of fossil fuel energy are needed to produce each calorie of food energy in modern industrial agriculture.3 With globalized trade in food, many regions host human populations larger than local resources alone could possibly support. Those systems of global distribution and trade also rely on oil.
Today, in the industrialized world, the frequency of famine that our ancestors knew and expected is hard to imagine. Food is so cheap and plentiful that obesity is a far more widespread concern than hunger. The average mega-supermarket stocks an impressive array of exotic foods from across the globe, and even staples are typically trucked or shipped from hundreds of miles away. All of this would be well and good if it were sustainable, but the fact that nearly all of this recent abundance depends on depleting, non-renewable fossil fuels whose burning emits climate-altering carbon dioxide gas means that the current situation is not sustainable. This means that it must and will come to an end.
The Worsening Oil Supply Picture
During the past decade a growing chorus of energy analysts has warned of the approach of "Peak Oil," the time when the global rate of extraction of petroleum will reach a maximum and begin its inevitable decline.
During this same decade, the price of oil has advanced from about US$12 per barrel to nearly $100 per barrel.
While there is some dispute among experts as to when the peak will occur, there is none as to whether. The global peak is merely the cumulative result of production peaks in individual oilfields and whole oil-producing nations, and these mini-peaks are occurring at an increasing rate.
The most famous and instructive national peak occurred in the US in 1970: at that time America produced 9.5 million barrels of oil per day; the current figure is less than 5.2 Mb/d. While at one time the US was the world's foremost oil exporting nation, it is today the world's foremost importer.
The history of US oil production also helps us evaluate the prospects for delaying the global peak. After 1970, exploration efforts succeeded in identifying two enormous new American oil provinces - the North Slope of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. During this period, other kinds of liquid fuels (such as ethanol and gas condensates) began to supplement crude. Also, improvements in oil recovery technology helped to increase the proportion of the oil in existing fields able to be extracted. These are precisely the strategies (exploration, substitution, and technological improvements) that the oil producers are relying on to delay the global production peak. In the US, each of these strategies made a difference - but not enough to reverse, for more than a year or two at a time, the overall 37-year trend of declining production. To assume that the results for the world as a whole will be much different is probably unwise.
The recent peak and decline in production of oil from the North Sea is of perhaps of more direct relevance to this audience. In just seven years, production from the British-controlled region has declined by almost half.
How near is the global peak? Today the majority of oil-producing nations are seeing reduced output: in 2006, BP's Statistical Review of World Energy reported declines in 27 of the 51 producing nations listed. In some instances, these declines will be temporary and are occurring because of lack of investment in production technology or domestic political problems. But in most instances the decline results from factors of geology: while older oil fields continue to yield crude, beyond a certain point it becomes impossible to maintain existing flow rates by any available means. As a result, over time there are fewer nations in the category of oil exporters and more nations in the category of oil importers.4
Meanwhile global rates of discovery of new oilfields have been declining since 1964.5
These two trends (a growing preponderance of past-peak producing nations, and a declining success rate for exploration) by themselves suggest that the world peak may be near [or here].
Clearly the timing of the global peak is crucial. If it happens soon, or if in fact it already has occurred, the consequences will be devastating. Oil has become the world's foremost energy resource. There is no ready substitute, and decades will be required to wean societies from it. Peak Oil could therefore constitute the greatest economic challenge since the dawn of the industrial revolution.
An authoritative new study by the Energy Watch Group of Germany concludes that global crude production hit its maximum level in 2006 and has already begun its gradual decline.6 Indeed, the past two years have seen sustained high prices for oil, a situation that should provide a powerful incentive to increase production wherever possible. Yet actual aggregate global production of conventional petroleum has stagnated during this time; the record monthly total for crude was achieved in May 2005, 30 months ago.
The latest medium-term report of the IEA, issued July 9, projects that world oil demand will rise by about 2.2 percent per year until 2012 while production will lag, leading to what the report's authors call a "supply crunch."7
Many put their hopes in coal and other low-grade fossil fuels to substitute for depleting oil. However, global coal production will hit its own peak perhaps as soon as 2025 according to the most recent studies, while so-called "clean coal" technologies are three decades away from widespread commercial application.8 Thus to avert a climate catastrophe from coal-based carbon emissions, our best hope is simply to keep most of the remaining coal in the ground.
The Price of Sustenance
During these past two years, as oil prices have soared, food prices have done so as well. Farmers now face steeply increasing costs for tractor fuel, agricultural chemicals, and the transport of farm inputs and outputs. However, the linkage between fuel and food prices is more complicated than this, and there are other factors entirely separate from petroleum costs that have impacted food prices. I will attempt to sort these various linkages and influences out in a moment.
First, however, it is worth taking a moment to survey the food price situation.
An article by John Vidal published in the Guardian on November 3, titled "Global Food Crisis Looms As Climate Change and Fuel Shortages Bite," began this way:
Empty shelves in Caracas. Food riots in West Bengal and Mexico. Warnings of hunger in Jamaica, Nepal, the Philippines and sub-Saharan Africa. Soaring prices for basic foods are beginning to lead to political instability, with governments being forced to step in to artificially control the cost of bread, maize, rice and dairy products.
Record world prices for most staple foods have led to 18 percent food price inflation in China, 13 percent in Indonesia and Pakistan, and 10 percent or more in Latin America, Russia and India, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). Wheat has doubled in price, maize is nearly 50 percent higher than a year ago and rice is 20 percent more expensive. . . .
Last week the Kremlin forced Russian companies to freeze the price of milk, bread and other foods until January 31. . . .
India, Yemen, Mexico, Burkina Faso and several other countries have had, or been close to, food riots in the last year. . . . Meanwhile, there are shortages of beef, chicken and milk in Venezuela and other countries as governments try to keep a lid on food price inflation.9
Jacques Diouf, head of the FAO, said in London early this month, "If you combine the increase of the oil prices and the increase of food prices then you have the elements of a very serious [social] crisis. . . ." FAO statistics show that grain stocks have been declining for more than a decade and now stand at a mere 57 days, the lowest level in a quarter century, threatening what it calls "a very serious crisis."10
According to Josette Sheeran, director of the UN's World Food Program (WFP), "There are 854 million hungry people in the world and 4 million more join their ranks every year. We are facing the tightest food supplies in recent history. For the world's most vulnerable, food is simply being priced out of their reach."11
In its biannual Food Outlook report released November 7, the FAO predicted that higher food prices will force poor nations, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, to cut food consumption and risk an increase in malnutrition. The report noted, "Given the firmness of food prices in the international markets, the situation could deteriorate further in the coming months."12
Meanwhile, a story by Peter Apps in Reuters from October 16 noted that the cost of food aid is rising dramatically, just as the global need for aid is expanding. The amount of money that nations and international agencies set aside for food aid remains relatively constant, while the amount of food that money will buy is shrinking.13
To be sure, higher food prices are good for farmers - assuming that at least some of the increase in price actually translates to higher income for growers. This is indeed the case for the poorest farmers, who have never adopted industrial methods. But for many others, the higher prices paid for food simply reflect higher production costs. Meanwhile, it is the urban poor who are impacted the worst.
Impact of Biofuels
One factor influencing food prices arises from the increasing incentives for farmers worldwide to grow biofuel crops rather than food crops. Ethanol and biodiesel can be produced from a variety of crops including maize, soy, rapeseed, sunflower, cassava, sugar cane, palm, and jatropha. As the price of oil rises, many farmers are finding that they can produce more income from their efforts by growing these crops and selling them to a biofuels plant, than by growing food crops either for their local community or for export.
Already nearly 20 percent of the US maize crop is devoted to making ethanol, and that proportion is expected to rise to one quarter, based solely on existing projects-in-development and government mandates. Last year US farmers grew 14 million tons of maize for vehicles. This took millions of hectares of land out of food production and nearly doubled the price of corn. Both Congress and the White House favour expanding ethanol production even further - to replace 20 percent of gasoline demand by 2017 - in an effort to promote energy security by reducing reliance on oil imports. Other nations including Britain are mandating increased biofuel production or imports as a way of reducing carbon emissions, though most analyses show that the actual net reduction in CO2 will be minor or nonexistent.14
The US is responsible for 70 percent of world maize exports, and countries such as Mexico, Japan, and Egypt that depend on American corn farmers use maize both as food for people and feed for animals. The ballooning of the US ethanol industry is therefore impacting food availability in other nations both directly and indirectly, raising the price for tortillas in Mexico and disrupting the livestock and poultry industries in Europe and Africa.
GRAIN, a Barcelona-based food-resources NGO, reports that the Indian government is committed to planting 14 million hectares with Jatropha for biodiesel production. Meanwhile, Brazil plans to grow 120 million hectares of fuel crops, and Africa up to 400 million hectares. While currently unproductive land will be used for much of this new production, many millions of people will be forced off that land in the process.15 Lester Brown, founder of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute, has said: "The competition for grain between the world's 800 million motorists, who want to maintain their mobility, and its two billion poorest people, who are simply trying to survive, is emerging as an epic issue."16 This is an opinion no longer being voiced just by environmentalists. In its twice-yearly report on the world economy, released October 17, the International Monetary Fund noted that, "The use of food as a source of fuel may have serious implications for the demand for food if the expansion of biofuels continues."17 And earlier this month, Oxfam warned the EU that its policy of substituting ten percent of all auto fuel with biofuels threatened to displace poor farmers. Jean Ziegler, a UN special rapporteur went so far as to call the biofuel trade "a crime against humanity," and echoed journalist George Monbiot's call for a five-year moratorium on government mandates and incentives for biofuel expansion.18
The British government has pledged that "only the most sustainable biofuels" will be used in the UK, but, as Monbiot has recently noted, there are no explicit standards to define "sustainable" biofuels, and there are no means to enforce those standards in any case.19
Impact of Climate Change and Environmental Degradation
Beyond the push for biofuels, the food crisis is also being driven by extreme weather events and environmental degradation.
The phrase "global warming" implies only the fact that the world's average temperature increase by a degree or more over the next few decades. The much greater problem for farmers is destabilization of weather patterns. We face not just a warmer climate, but climate chaos: droughts, floods, and stronger storms in general (hurricanes, cyclones, tornadoes, hail storms) - in short, unpredictable weather of all kinds. Farmers depend on relatively consistent seasonal patterns of rain and sun, cold and heat; a climate shift can spell the end of farmers' ability to grow a crop in a given region, and even a single freak storm can destroy an entire year's national production for some crops. Given the fact that modern agriculture has become highly centralized due to cheap transport and economies of scale, the damage from that freak storm is today potentially continental or even global in scale. We have embarked on a century in which, increasingly, freakish weather is normal.
According to the UN's World Food Program (WFP), 57 countries, including 29 in Africa, 19 in Asia and nine in Latin America, have been hit by catastrophic floods. Harvests have been affected by drought and heatwaves in south Asia, Europe, China, Sudan, Mozambique and Uruguay.20
Last week the Australian government said drought had slashed predictions of winter harvests by nearly 40 percent, or four million tons. "It is likely to be even smaller than the disastrous drought-ravaged 2006-07 harvest and the worst in more than a decade," said the Bureau of Agriculture and Resource.21
In addition to climate chaos, we must contend with the depletion or degradation of several resources essential to agriculture.
Phosphorus is set to become much more scarce and expensive, according to a study by Patrick Déry, a Canadian agriculture and environment analyst and consultant. Using data from the US Geological Survey, Déry performed a peaking analysis on phosphate rock, similar to the techniques used by petroleum geologists to forecast declines in production from oilfields. He found that "we have already passed the phosphate peak [of production] for United States (1988) and for the World (1989)." We will not completely run out of rock phosphate any time soon, but we will be relying on lower-grade ores as time goes on, with prices inexorably rising.22
At the same time, soil erosion undermines food production and water availability, as well as producing 30 percent of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Each year, roughly 100,000 square kilometres of land loses its vegetation and becomes degraded or turns into desert, altering the temperature and energy balance of the planet.23
Finally, yet another worrisome environmental trend is the increasing scarcity of fresh water. According to United Nations estimates, one third of the world's population lives in areas with water shortages and 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water. That situation is expected to worsen dramatically over the next few decades. Climate change has provoked more frequent and intense droughts in sub-tropical areas of Asia and Africa, exacerbating shortages in some of the world's poorest countries.
While human population tripled in the 20th century, the use of renewable water resources has grown six-fold. According to Bridget Scanlon and colleagues, writing in Water Resources Research this past March 27, in the last 100 years irrigated agriculture expanded globally by 480 percent, and it is projected to increase another 20 percent by 2030 in developing countries. Irrigation is expanding fastest in countries such as China and India. Global irrigated agriculture now accounts for almost 90 percent of global freshwater consumption, despite representing only 18 percent of global cropland. In addition to drawing down aquifers and surface water sources, it also degrades water quality, as salts in soils are mobilized, and as fertilizers and pesticides leach into aquifers and streams.24
These problems all interact and compound one another. For example, soil degradation produces growing shortages of water, since soil and vegetation act as a sponge that holds and gradually releases water. Soil degradation also worsens climate change as increased evaporation triggers more extreme weather.
This month the UN Environment Program concluded that the planet's water, land, air, plants, animals and fish stocks are all in "inexorable decline." Much of this decline is due to agriculture, which constitutes the greatest single source of human impact on the biosphere.25
In the face of all these daunting challenges, the world must produce more food every year to keep up with population growth. Zafar Adeel, director of the International Network on Water, Environment and Health (INWEH), has calculated that more food will have to be produced during the next 50 years than during the last 10,000 years combined.26
What Is the Solution?
International food agency officials spin out various scenarios to describe how our currently precarious global food system might successfully adapt and expand. Perhaps markets will automatically readjust to shortages, higher prices making it more profitable once again to grow crops for people rather than cars. New designer-gene crop varieties could help crops adapt to capricious climactic conditions, to require less water, or to grow in more marginal soils. And if people were to simply eat less meat, more land could be freed up to grow food for humans rather than farm animals. A slowdown or reversal in population growth would naturally ease pressures on the food system, while the cultivation of currently unproductive land could help increase supplies.
However, given the scale of the crisis facing us, merely to assume that these things will happen, or that they will be sufficient to overcome the dilemmas we have been discussing, seems overly optimistic, perhaps even to the point of irresponsibility.
One hopeful sign is that governments and international agencies are beginning to take the situation seriously. This month the World Bank issued a major report, "Agriculture for Development," whose main author, economist Alain de Janvry, appears to reverse his institution's traditional stance. For a half-century, development agencies such as the World Bank have minimized the importance of agriculture, urging nations to industrialize and urbanize as rapidly as possible. Indeed, the Bank has not featured agriculture in an annual report since 1982. De Janvry says that, since half the world's population and three-quarters of the world's poor live in rural areas where food production is the mainstay of the economy, farming must be central to efforts to reduce hunger and poverty.27
Many agencies, including the INWEH, are now calling for an end to the estimated 30 billion dollars in food subsidies in the North that contribute directly to land degradation in Africa and elsewhere, and that force poor farmers to intensify their production in order to compete.28
In addition, there are calls for sweeping changes in how land use decisions are made at all levels of government. Because soil, water, energy, climate, biodiversity, and food production are interconnected, integrated policy-making is essential. Yet policies currently are set by various different governmental departments and agencies that often have little understanding of one another's sectors.
Delegates at a soils forum in Iceland this month took up a proposal for a formal agreement on protecting the world's soils. And the World Water Council is promoting a range of programs to ensure the availability of clean water especially to people in poorer countries.29
All these efforts are laudable; however, they largely fail to address the common sources of the dilemmas we face - human population growth, and society's and agriculture's reliance on fossil fuels.
The solution most often promoted by the biggest companies within the agriculture industry - the bioengineering of crops and farm animals - does little or nothing to address these deeper causes. One can fantasize about modifying maize or rice to fix nitrogen in the way that legumes do, but so far efforts in that direction have failed. Meanwhile, and the bio-engineering industry itself consumes fossil fuels, and assumes the continued availability of oil for tractors, transportation, chemicals production, and so on.30
To get to the heart of the crisis, we need a more fundamental reform of agriculture than anything we have seen in many decades. In essence, we need an agriculture that does not require fossil fuels.
The idea is not new. The aim of substantially or entirely removing fossil fuels from agriculture is implicit in organic farming in all its various forms and permutations - including ecological agriculture, Biodynamics, Permaculture, Biointensive farming, and Natural Farming. All also have in common a prescription for the reduction or elimination of tillage, and the reduction or elimination of reliance on mechanized farm equipment. Nearly all of these systems rely on increased amounts of human labour, and on greater application of place-specific knowledge of soils, microorganisms, weather, water, and interactions between plants, animals, and humans.
Critics of organic or biological agriculture have always contended that chemical-free and less-mechanized forms of food production are incapable of feeding the burgeoning human population. This view is increasingly being challenged.
A recent survey of studies, by Christos Vasilikiotis, Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley, titled "Can Organic Farming Feed the World?", concluded: "From the studies mentioned above and from an increasing body of case studies, it is becoming evident that organic farming does not result in either catastrophic crop losses due to pests nor in dramatically reduced yields. . . ."31
The most recent publication on the subject, by Perfecto et al., in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, found that "Organic farming can yield up to three times as much food on individual farms in developing countries, as [conventional] methods on the same land. . . ."32
Moreover, is clear that ecological agriculture could help directly to address the dilemmas we have been discussing.
Regarding water, organic production can help by building soil structure, thus reducing the need for irrigation. And with no petrochemical runoff, water quality is not degraded.33
Soil erosion and land degradation can be halted and even reversed: by careful composting, organic farmers have demonstrated the ability to build humus at many times the natural rate.34
Climate change can be addressed, by keeping carbon molecules in the soil and in forests and grasslands. Indeed, as much as 20 percent of anticipated net fossil fuel emissions between now and 2050 could be stored in this way, according to Maryam Niamir-Fuller of the U.N. Development Program.35
Natural gas depletion will mean higher prices and shortages for ammonia-based nitrogen fertilizers. But ecologically sound organic-biological agricultural practices use plant and manure-based fertilizers rather than fossil fuels. And when farmers concentrate on building healthy topsoil rich in beneficial microbes, plants have reduced needs for nitrogen.36
The impending global shortage of phosphate will be more difficult to address, as there is no substitute for this substance. The only solution here will be to recycle nutrients by returning all animal and human manures to cultivated soil, as Asian farmers did for many centuries, and as many ecological farmers have long advocated.37
What Will Be Needed
How might we actually accomplish this comprehensive transformation [f]or world agriculture? Some clues are offered by the example of a society that has already experienced and dealt with a fossil-fuel famine.
In the late 1980s, farmers in Cuba were highly reliant on cheap fuels and petrochemicals imported from the Soviet Union, using more agrochemicals per acre than their US counterparts. In 1990, as the Soviet empire collapsed, Cuba lost those imports and faced an agricultural crisis. The average Cuban lost 20 pounds of body weight and malnutrition was nearly universal. The Cuban GDP fell dramatically and inhabitants of the island nation experienced a substantial decline in their material standard of living.38
Several agronomists at Cuban universities had for many years been advocating a transition to organic methods. Cuban authorities responded to the crisis by giving these ecological agronomists carte blanche to redesign the nation's food system. Officials broke up large state-owned farms, offered land to farming families, and encouraged the formation of small agricultural co-ops. Cuban farmers began employing oxen as a replacement for the tractors they could no longer afford to fuel. Cuban scientists began investigating biological methods of pest control and soil fertility enhancement. The government sponsored widespread education in organic food production, and the Cuban people adopted a mostly vegetarian diet out of necessity. Salaries for agricultural workers were raised, in many cases to above the levels of urban office workers. Urban gardens were encouraged in parking lots and on public lands, and thousands of rooftop gardens appeared. Small food animals such as chickens and rabbits began to be raised on rooftops as well.
As a result of these efforts, Cuba was able to avoid what might otherwise have been a severe famine.
If the rest of the world does not plan for a reduction in fossil fuel use in agriculture, its post-peak-oil agricultural transition may be far less successful than was Cuba's. Already in poor countries, farmers who are attempting to apply industrial methods but cannot afford tractor fuel and petrochemical inputs are watching their crops fail. Soon farmers in wealthier nations will be having a similar experience.
Where food is still being produced, there will be the challenge of getting it to the stores. Britain had a taste of this problem in 2000; David Strahan relates in his brilliant book The Last Oil Shock how close Britain came to political chaos then as truckers went on strike because of high fuel costs. He writes: "Supermarket shelves were being stripped of staple foods in scenes of panic buying. Sainsbury, Asda, and Safeway reported that some branches were having to ration bread and milk."39 This was, of course, merely a brief interruption in the normal functioning of the British energy-food system. In the future we may be facing instead what my colleague James Howard Kunstler calls "the long emergency."40
How will Britain and the rest of the world cope? What will be needed to ensure a successful transition away from an oil-based food system, as opposed to a haphazard and perhaps catastrophic one?
Because ecological organic farming methods are often dramatically more labour- and knowledge-intensive than industrial agriculture, their adoption will require an economic transformation of societies. The transition to a non-fossil-fuel food system will take time. Nearly every aspect of the process by which we feed ourselves must be redesigned. And, given the likelihood that global oil peak will occur soon, this transition must occur at a forced pace, backed by the full resources of national governments.
Without cheap transportation fuels we will have to reduce the amount of food transportation that occurs, and make necessary transportation more efficient. This implies increased local food self-sufficiency. It also implies problems for large cities that have been built in arid regions capable of supporting only small populations from their regional resource base. In some cases, relocation of people on a large scale may be necessary.
We will need to grow more food in and around cities. Recently, Oakland California adopted a food policy that mandates by 2015 the growing within a fifty-mile radius of city center of 40 percent of the vegetables consumed in the city.41
Localization of food systems means moving producers and consumers of food closer together, but it also means relying on the local manufacture and regeneration of all of the elements of the production process - from seeds to tools and machinery. This again would appear to rule out agricultural bioengineering, which favours the centralized production of patented seed varieties, and discourages the free saving of seeds from year to year by farmers.
Clearly, we must also minimize indirect chemical inputs to agriculture - such as those introduced in packaging and processing.
We will need to re-introduce draft animals in agricultural production. Oxen may be preferable to horses in many instances, because the former can eat straw and stubble, while the latter would compete with humans for grains. We can only bring back working animals to the extent that we can free up land with which to produce food for them. One way to do that would be to reduce the number of farm animals grown for meat [in Cuba beef consumption was discouraged until the stock of oxen increased].
Governments must also provide incentives for people to return to an agricultural life. It would be a mistake to think of this simply in terms of the need for a larger agricultural work force. Successful traditional agriculture requires social networks and intergenerational sharing of skills and knowledge. We need not just more agricultural workers, but a rural culture that makes farming a rewarding way of life capable of attracting young people.
Farming requires knowledge and experience, and so we will need education for a new generation of farmers; but only some of this education can be generic - much of it must of necessity be locally appropriate.
It will be necessary as well to break up the corporate mega-farms that produce so much of today's cheap food. Industrial agriculture implies an economy of scale that will be utterly inappropriate and unworkable for post-industrial food systems. Thus land reform will be required in order to enable smallholders and farming co-ops to work their own plots.
In order for all of this to happen, governments must end subsidies to industrial agriculture and begin subsidizing post-industrial agricultural efforts. There are many ways this could be done. The present regime of subsidies is so harmful that merely stopping it in its tracks might be advantageous; but, given the fact that rapid adaptation is essential, offering subsidies for education, no-interest loans for land purchase, and technical support during the transition from chemical to organic production would be essential.
Finally, given carrying-capacity limits, food policy must include population policy. We must encourage smaller families by means of economic incentives and improve the economic and educational status of women in poorer countries.
All of this constitutes a gargantuan task, but the alternatives - doing nothing or attempting to solve our food-production problems simply by applying mere techno-fixes - will almost certainly lead to dire consequences. All of the worrisome trends mentioned earlier would intensify to the point that the human carrying capacity of Earth would be degraded significantly, and perhaps to a large degree permanently.42
So far we have addressed the responsibility of government in facilitating the needed transformation in agriculture. Consumers can help enormously by becoming more conscious of their food choices, seeking out locally produced organic foods and reducing meat consumption.
The organic movement, while it may view the crisis in industrial agriculture as an opportunity, also bears an enormous responsibility. In the example of Cuba just cited, the active lobbying of organic agronomists proved crucial. Without that guiding effort on the part of previously marginalized experts, the authorities would have had no way to respond. Now crisis is at hand for the world as a whole. The organic movement has most of the answers that will be needed; however, its message still isn't getting through. Three things will be necessary to change that.
The various strands of the organic movement must come together so that they can speak to national and international policy makers with a unified voice.
The leaders of this newly unified organic movement must produce a coherent plan for a global transition to a post-fossil-fuel food system. Organic farmers and their organizations have been promoting some of the needed policies for decades in a piecemeal fashion. Now, however, there is an acute need for a clearly formulated, comprehensive, alternative national and global food policy, and there is little time to communicate and implement it. It is up to the organic movement to proactively seek out policy makers and promote this coherent alternative, just as it is up to representatives of government at all levels to listen.
I have just called for unity in the organic movement, and to achieve this it will be necessary to address a recent split within the movement. What might be called traditional organic remains focused on small-scale, labour-intensive, local production for local consumption. In contrast to this, the more recently emerging corporate organic model merely removes petrochemicals from production, while maintaining nearly all the other characteristics of the modern industrial food system. This trend may be entirely understandable in terms of the economic pressures and incentives within the food industry as a whole. However, corporate organic has much less to offer in terms of solutions to the emerging crisis. Thus as the various strands of the organic movement come together, they should do so in light of the larger societal necessity. The discussion must move beyond merely gaining market share; it must focus on averting famine under crisis conditions.
To conclude, let me simply restate what is I hope clear by now: Given the fact that fossil fuels are limited in quantity and that we are already in view of the global oil production peak, we must turn to a food system that is less fuel-reliant, even if the process is problematic in many ways. Of course, the process will take time; it is a journey that will take place over decades. Nevertheless, it must begin soon, and it must begin with a comprehensive plan. The transition to a fossil-fuel-free food system does not constitute a distant utopian proposal. It is an unavoidable, immediate, and immense challenge that will call for unprecedented levels of creativity at all levels of society. A hundred years from now, everyone will be eating what we today would define as organic food, whether or not we act. But what we do now will determine how many will be eating, what state of health will be enjoyed by those future generations, and whether they will live in a ruined cinder of a world, or one that is in the process of being renewed and replenished.
Posted in full because of its importance. This is Museletter #188, also appearing at Richard Heinberg's website and at Global Public Media.
The Oil Depletion Analysis Center (ODAC) in the UK posted further information on this talk and its reception [in] their bulletin, as follows:
On the 22nd November, Richard Heinberg, Peak Oil educator extraordinaire, gave the Soil Association's annual Lady Eve Balfour Memorial Lecture, entitled What Will We Eat When The Oil Runs Out? A lecture outline, short summary of the event on YouTube, full transcript of the lecture and podcast, plus further information on the panel discussion that followed, are available from the Soil Association website.
An ODAC contact, Simon Wheeler, attended the lecture/panel discussion and took some notes on ODAC's behalf. Read Simon's thoughts.
David Strahan interviewed Richard Heinberg at the event. See Localise and go organic to avert post-peak famine - Heinberg (article plus podcast).
The lecture was reported by the UK's largest (by sales) broadsheet newspaper, The Telegraph. The article was in the 'Earth' section of the newspaper: Apocalyptic vision of a post-fossil fuel world. Such a gloomy title does not exactly inspire, as in 'must read', but it is still a pretty good article because it focuses on the positive, what can and must be done to avoid said apocalypse.
People should avoid using Wi-Fi wherever possible because of the risks it may pose to health, the German government has said.
Its surprise ruling - the most damning made by any government on the fast-growing technology - will shake the industry and British ministers, and vindicates the questions that The Independent on Sunday has been raising over the past four months.
And Germany's official radiation protection body also advises its citizens to use landlines instead of mobile phones, and warns of "electrosmog" from a wide range of other everyday products, from baby monitors to electric blankets.
The German government's ruling - which contrasts sharply with the unquestioning promotion of the technology by British officials - was made in response to a series of questions by Green members of the Bundestag, Germany's parliament.
The Environment Ministry recommended that people should keep their exposure to radiation from Wi-Fi "as low as possible" by choosing "conventional wired connections". It added that it is "actively informing people about possibilities for reducing personal exposure".
Its actions will provide vital support for Sir William Stewart, Britain's official health protection watchdog, who has produced two reports calling for caution in using mobile phones and who has also called for a review of the use of Wi-Fi in schools. His warnings have so far been ignored by ministers and even played down by the Health Protection Agency, which he chairs.
By contrast the agency's German equivalent - the Federal Office for Radiation Protection - is leading the calls for caution.
Florian Emrich, for the office, says Wi-Fi should be avoided "because people receive exposures from many sources and because it is a new technology and all the research into its health effects has not yet been carried out".
Are Your Cell Phone and Laptop Bad for Your Health? By Stan Cox AlterNet
Tuesday 31 July 2007
In the wee hours of July 14, a 45-year-old Australian named John Patterson climbed into a tank and drove it through the streets of Sydney, knocking down six cell-phone towers and an electrical substation along the way. Patterson, a former telecommunications worker, reportedly had mapped out the locations of the towers, which he claimed were harming his health.
In recent years, protesters in England and Northern Ireland have brought down cell towers by sawing, removing bolts, and pulling with tow trucks and ropes. In one such case, locals bought the structure and sold off pieces of it as souvenirs to help with funding of future protests. In attempts to fend off objections to towers in Germany, some churches have taken to disguising them as giant crucifixes.
Opposition to towers usually finds more socially acceptable outlets, and protests are being heard more often than ever in meetings of city councils, planning commissions, and other government bodies. This summer alone, citizen efforts to block cell towers have sprouted in, among a host of other places, including California, New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, North Dakota and north of the border in Ontario and British Columbia. Transmitters are already banned from the roofs of schools in many districts.
For years, towers have been even less welcome in the United Kingdom, where this summer has seen disputes across the country.
Most opponents cite not only aesthetics but also concerns over potential health effects of electromagnetic (EM) fields generated by the towers. Once ridiculed as crackpots and Luddites, they're starting to get backup from the scientific community.
It's not just cell phones they're worried about. The Tottenham area of London is considering the suspension of all wireless technology in its schools. Last year, Fred Gilbert, a respected scientist and president of Lakehead University in Ontario, banned wireless internet on his campus. And resident groups in San Francisco are currently battling Earthlink and Google over a proposed city-wide Wi-Fi system.
Picking Up Some Interference?
For decades, concerns have been raised about the health effects of "extremely low frequency" fields that are produced by electrical equipment or power lines. People living close to large power lines or working next to heavy electrical equipment are spending a lot of time in electromagnetic fields generated by those sources. Others of us can be exposed briefly to very strong fields each day.
But in the past decade, suspicion has spread to cell phones and other wireless technologies, which operate at frequencies that are millions to tens of millions higher but at low power and "pulsed."
Then there's your cell phone, laptop, or other wireless device, which not only receives but also sends pulsed signals at high frequencies. Because it's usually very close to your head (or lap) when in use, the fields experienced by your body are stronger than those from a cell tower down the street.
A growing number of scientists, along with a diverse collection of technology critics, are pointing out that our bodies constantly generate electrical pulses as part of their normal functioning. They maintain that incoming radiation from modern technology may be fouling those signals.
But with hundreds of billions in sales at stake, the communications industry (and more than a few scientists) insist that radio-frequency radiation can't have biological effects unless it's intense enough to heat your flesh or organs, in the way a microwave oven cooks meat.
It's also turning out that when scientific studies are funded by industry, the results a lot less likely to show that EM fields are a health hazard.
Low Frequency, More Frequent Disease?
Before the digital revolution, a long line of epidemiological studies compared people who were exposed to strong low-frequency fields - people living in the shadow of power lines, for example, or long-time military radar operators - to similar but unexposed groups.
One solid outcome of that research was to show that rates of childhood leukemia are associated with low-frequency EM exposure; as a result, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has labeled that type of energy as a possible carcinogen, just as they might label a chemical compound.
Other studies have found increased incidence of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (commonly called ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease), higher rates of breast cancer among both men and women, and immune-system dysfunction in occupations with high exposure.
Five years ago, the California Public Utilities Commission asked three epidemiologists in the state Department of Health Services to review and evaluate the scientific literature on health effects of low-frequency EM fields.
The epidemiologists, who had expertise in physics, medicine, and genetics, agreed in their report that they were "inclined to believe that EMFs can cause some degree of increased risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease, and miscarriage" and were open to the possibility that they raise the risks of adult leukemia and suicide. They did not see associations with other cancer types, heart disease, or Alzheimer's disease.
Epidemiological and animal studies have not been unanimous in finding negative health effects from low-frequency EM fields, so the electric-utility industry continues to emphasize that no cause-and-effect link has been proven.
Now the most intense debate is focused on radio-frequency fields. As soon as cell phones came into common usage, there was widespread concern that holding an electronic device against the side of your head many hours a month for the rest of your life might be harmful, and researchers went to work looking for links to health problems, often zeroing in on the possibility of brain tumors.
Until recently, cell phones had not been widely used over enough years to evaluate effects on cancers that take a long time to develop. A number of researchers failed to find an effect during those years, but now that the phones have been widely available for more than a decade, some studies are relating brain-tumor rates to long-term phone use.
Some lab studies have found short-term harm as well. Treatment with cell-phone frequencies has disrupted thyroid-gland functioning in lab rats, for example. And at Lund University in Sweden, rats were exposed to cell-phone EM fields of varying strengths for two hours; 50 days later, exposed rats showed significant brain damage relative to non-exposed controls.
The authors were blunt in their assessment: "We chose 12-26-week-old rats because they are comparable with human teenagers - notably frequent users of mobile phones - with respect to age. The situation of the growing brain might deserve special concern from society because biologic and maturational processes are particularly vulnerable during the growth process."
Even more recently, health concerns have been raised about the antenna masts that serve cell phones and other wireless devices. EM fields at, say, a couple of blocks from a tower are not as strong as those from a wireless device held close to the body; nevertheless many city-dwellers are now continuously bathed in emissions that will only grow in their coverage and intensity.
Last year, the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia closed off the top two floors of its 17-story business school for a time because five employees working on its upper floors had been diagnosed with brain tumors in a single month, and seven since 1999. Cell phone towers had been placed on the building's roof a decade earlier and, although there was no proven link between them and the tumors, university officials were taking no chances.
Data on the health effects of cell or W-Fi towers are still sparse and inconsistent. Their opponents point to statistically rigorous studies like one in Austria finding that headaches and difficulty with concentration were more common among people exposed to stronger fields from cell towers. All sides seem to agree on the need for more research with solid data and robust statistical design.
San Francisco, one of the world's most technology-happy cities, is home to more than 2400 cell-phone antennas, and many of those transmitters are due to be replaced with more powerful models that can better handle text messaging and photographs, and possibly a new generation of even higher-frequency phones.
Now there's hot-and-heavy debate over plans to add 2200 more towers for a city-wide Earthlink/Google Wi-Fi network. On July 31, the city's Board of Supervisors considered an appeal by the San Francisco Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union (SNAFU) that the network proposal be put through an environmental review - a step that up to now has not been required for such telecommunications projects.
In support of the appeal, Magda Havas, professor of environmental and resource studies at Trent University in Ontario submitted an analysis of radio-frequency effects found in more than 50 human, animal, and cellular-level studies published in scientific journals.
Havas has specialized in investigating the effects of both low- and high-frequency EM radiation. She says most of the research in the field is properly done, but that alone won't guarantee that all studies will give similar results. "Natural variability in biological populations is the norm," she said.
And, she says, informative research takes time and focus: "For example, studies that consider all kinds of brain tumors in people who've only used cell phones for, say, five years don't show an association. But those studies that consider only tumors on the same side of the head where the phone is held and include only people who've used a phone for ten years or more give the same answer very consistently: there's an increased risk of tumors." In other research, wireless frequencies have been associated with higher rates of miscarriage, testicular cancer, and low sperm counts.
Direct current from a battery can be used to encourage healing of broken bones. EM fields of various frequencies have also been shown to reduce tissue damage from heart attacks, help heal wounds, reduce pain, improve sleep, and relieve depression and anxiety. If they are biologically active enough to promote health, are they also active enough to degrade it?
At the 2006 meeting of the International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety in Benevento, Italy, 42 scientists from 16 countries signed a resolution arguing for much stricter regulation of EM fields from wireless communication.
Four years earlier, in Freiburger, Germany, a group of physicians had signed a statement also calling for tighter regulation of wireless communication and a prohibition on use of wireless devices by children. In the years since, more than 3000 doctors have signed the so-called "Freiburger Appeal" and documents modeled on it.
But in this country, industry has pushed for and gotten exemption from strict regulation, most notably through the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Libby Kelley, director of the Council on Wireless Technology Impacts in Novato, California says, "The technology always comes first, the scientific and environmental questions later. EM trails chemicals by about 10 years, but I hope we'll catch up."
Kelley says a major problem is that the Telecommunications Act does not permit state or local governments to block the siting of towers based on health concerns: "We'll go to hearings and try to bring up health issues, and officials will tell us, 'We can't talk about that. We could get sued in federal court!'"
Industry officials are correct when they say the scientific literature contains many studies that did not find power lines or telecommunication devices to have significant health effects. But when, as often happens, a range of studies give some positive and some negative results, industry people usually make statements like, "Technology A has not been proven to cause disease B."
Michael Kundi, professor at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria and an EM researcher, has issued a warning about distortions of the concept of cause-and-effect, particularly when a scientific study concludes that "there is no evidence for a causal relationship" between environmental factors and human health. Noting that science is rarely able to prove that A did or did not "cause" B, he wrote that such statements can be "readily misused by interested parties to claim that exposure is not associated with adverse health effects."
Scientists and groups concerned about current standards for EM fields have criticized the World Health Organization (WHO) and other for downplaying the risks. And some emphasize the risk of financial influence when such intense interest is being shown by huge utilities and a global communications industry that's expected to sell $250 billion worth of wireless handsets per year by 2011 (that's just for the instruments, not counting monthly bills). Microwave News cited Belgian reports in late 2006 that two industry groups - the GSM Association and Mobile Manufacturers Forum - accounted for more than 40 percent of the budget for WHO's EM fields project in 2005-06.
When a US National Academy of Sciences committee was formed earlier this year to look into health effects of wireless communication devices, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Sage Associates wrote a letter to the Academy charging that the appointment of two of the committee's six members was improper under federal conflict-of-interest laws.
One of the committee members, Leeka Kheifets, a professor of epidemiology in UCLA's School of Public Health, has, says the letter, "spent the majority of the past 20 years working in various capacities with the Electric Power Research Institute, the research arm of the electric power industry."
The other, Bernard Veyret, senior scientist at the University of Bordeaux in France, "is on the consulting board of Bouygues Telecom (one of 3 French mobile phone providers), has contracts with Alcatel and other providers, and has received research funding from Electricite de France, the operator of the French electricity grid." The NAS committee will be holding a workshop this month and will issue a report sometime after that.
A paper published in January in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that when studies of cell phone use and health problems were funded by industry, they were much less likely to find a statistically significant relationship than were publicly funded studies.
The authors categorized the titles of the papers they surveyed as either negative (as in "Cellular phones have no effect on sleep patterns"), or neutral (e.g., "Sleep patterns of adolescents using cellular phones"), or positive, (e.g., "Cellular phones disrupt sleep"). Fully 42 percent of the privately funded studies had negative titles and none had positive ones. In public or nonprofit studies, titles were 18 percent negative and 46 percent positive.
Alluding to previous studies in the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries, the authors concluded, "Our findings add to the existing evidence that single-source sponsorship is associated with outcomes that favor the sponsors' products."
By email, I asked Dr. John Moulder, a senior editor of the journal Radiation Research, for his reaction to the study. Moulder, who is Professor and Director of Radiation Biology in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Wisconsin, did not think the analysis was adequate to conclusively demonstrate industry influence and told me that in his capacity as an editor, "I have not noted such an effect, but I have not systematically looked for one either. I am certainly aware that an industry bias exists in other areas of medicine, such as reporting of clinical trails."
Moulder was lead author on a 2005 paper concluding that the scientific literature to that point showed "a lack of convincing evidence for a causal association between cancer and exposure to the RF [radio-frequency] energy used for mobile telecommunications."
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has questioned Moulder's objectivity because he has served as a consultant to electric-power and telecommunications firms and groups. Moulder told me, "I have not done any consulting for the electric power and telecommunications industry in years, and when I was doing consulting for these industries, the journals for which I served as an editor or reviewer were made aware of it."
A year ago, Microwave News also reported that approximately one-half of all studies looking into possible damage to DNA by communication-frequency EM fields found no effect. But three-fourths of those negative studies were industry- or military-funded; indeed, only 3 of 35 industry or military papers found an effect, whereas 32 of 37 publicly funded studies found effects.
Magda Havas sees a shortage of public money in the US for research on EM health effects as one of the chief factors leading to lack of a rigorous public policy, telling me, "Much of the research here ends up being funded directly or indirectly by industry. That affects both the design and the interpretation of studies." As for research done directly by company scientists, "It's the same as in any industry. They can decide what information to make public. They are free to downplay harmful effects and release information that's beneficial to their product."
Meanwhile, at Trent University where Havas works, students using laptops are exposed to radio-frequency levels that exceed international guidelines. Of that, she says, "For people who've been fully informed and decide to take the risk, that's their choice. But what about those who have no choice, who have a cell-phone tower outside their bedroom window?
"It's the equivalent of secondhand smoke. We took a long time to get the political will to establish smoke-free environments, and we now know we should have done it sooner. How long will it take to react to secondhand radiation?"
The safest generalization one can make about life on earth might describe it as a thin layer of green rust. Much further below the surface of the earth, and even bacteria finds existence made difficult; too high in the atmosphere, and they again become thin. Bacteria represent the oldest form of life, and the most prevalent, but when it comes to multi-cellular life, plants form the bulk of it on this planet. Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis deals largely in the global community of plants, and how they cooperate and share with one another. The entire animal kingdom exists as a kind of auxiliary to the world of plants; laid on top of it, and completely dependent on it. Yet all too often, we turn a blind eye to the secret life of plants, and mistake them for passive, inanimate parts of the scenery.
At the beginning of Edible Forest Gardens: Ecological Vision, Theory For Temperate Climate Permaculture, Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier describe an experiment that began with a carefully placed radioactive marker left on a tree stump. A few weeks later, when the researchers returned, they could find that radioactive marker in every plant for a considerable radius from the stump. The roots of each plant connected, one to the next, spreading out around each other and connected by bacteria and fungi. Prior to deforestation, root systems from Maine to Florida connected from one end of the continent to the other, creating a kind of vast super-organism, just below the surface.
In 1803 Frederich Seturner isolated the first individual plant constituents from opium and named them alkaloids, some 140 million years after complex land plants created them for reasons of their own. Plant chemistry has not been studied very long in the scheme of things; it is still not very well understood.
Consider: Each of the estimated 275,000 different species of plants on Earth contains several hundred to several thousand unique chemicals. The majority of these species manifest as millions of different individuals, all of them generating different variations, sometimes significantly, on their species’ chemical theme. A plant with one thousand different chemical constituents can literally combine them in millions of different ways. To compound the complexity, these combinations, added to those of other plants or of other organisms, produce synergistic results that are not predictable. Even a tiny change in dosage or combination can produce significantly different outcomes. Basically, the little that people currently know about plant chemistry is not very much. This ignorance is magnified by our tendency (because of our upbringing) to think of plants as insentient salads or building materials engaging in chemical production processes that just happened by accident and, in consequence, have no purpose or meaning. Phytoexistentialism.
Still, here we are. (Buhner, 2002)
Plants regulate the atmosphere, produce medicine for themselves and for every animal species, and form the foundation for the macroscopic level of life on this planet, yet we have only begun to understand their lives. We jealously maintain that they exist only as inanimate, unfeeling, unconscious things. This perspective shrivels up and withers away under the light of the most recent research into the secret lives of plants, giving us evidence that must ultimately force us to ask if we should begin considering plants as people.
How Does a Plant Feel?
One can hardly discuss the notion of plant perception without discussing Cleve Backster. Backster worked with polygraph machines, originally working in interrogations with the CIA. Today, his claim to fame rests with experiments he did hooking up plants to polygraph machines; he claimed that his experiments showed that plants reacted to harm, and even suggestions of harm, even going so far as to suggest that the plants could read human minds, and react to their intentions of harm.
Unfortunately, Backster didn’t understand scientific controls very well. The Skeptic’s Dictionary entry on “Plant perception” lists a host of variables Backster failed to control for, including the possibility that he may have burned the galvanic receptors or other equipment. No one has successfully duplicated Backster’s results with proper controls since then, while his supporters typically contend that they don’t need proper controls.
Backster’s fame has turned the scientific world off of any actual, legitimate study of possible plant perception; the sloppiness and pseudo-scientific light that the affair gathered still makes the idea of plant perception seem like a bunch of New Age, hippy mumbo-jumbo. Fortunately, more serious biologists have continued researching plants, and that has given us a much more solid footing from which to explore the lives of plants.
For instance, researchers from McMaster University published a study in the June 12, 2007 issue of Biology Letters, showing that plants recognize other members of their family.
If kin discrimination via root-root interactions proves widespread, it will profoundly change how we view competition in plants. Our results, because we used maternal sibships, indicate a genetic or maternally derived mechanism for kin recognition involving root communication. However, the mechanism is probably different from the self/non-self mechanism, because plants recognize genetically identical individuals as non-self. Having found kin discrimination once, we expect to find kin discrimination elsewhere in plants, since variable dispersal, variable competitive situations, and increases in fitness when competing with kin, are found in other plants. Other competitive traits, such as stem elongation and apical dominance, are the most probable candidates to exhibit plastic responses contingent on kinship of neighbours. (Dudley & File, 2007)
A collection of studies titled Communication in Plants studies &ldquolant neurobiology,” and the similarities between plant neurology and animal neurology. Researchers have even begun to move towards a mechanism of plant intelligence. Typically, plant perception has met with immediate dismissal because plants lack brains, or anything like brains. It turns out that such a statement doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny; yes, plants lack an animal’s central nervous system, but we’ve begun to see that plants do have a distributed kind of nervous system.
“This new study is very important,” says Richard Jorgensen, an associate professor of plant sciences at the University of Arizona and also an expert in the field. “What they’ve identified is probably a component in a radically new system for communication between cells and between organs of the plant.”
The current picture of the plant’s transportation, or phloem, system looks something like a bustling subway. The tube- shaped sieve elements of the phloem are the subway lines, the companion cells of the sieve elements are the stations, and connecting tunnels called plasmodesmata allow cargoes to move from the stations into the subway lines.
In the Jan. 1 issue of the journal Science, the UC Davis study introduces the new factor, the movement protein.
In the cells of leaves and stems, the movement protein binds to an informative segment of genetic code called messenger RNA (mRNA). Like a subway ticket, the movement protein lets the mRNA enter the plasmodesmal tunnel to the subway line, or phloem translocation stream. Once in the subway line, the complex of movement protein and mRNA travels very rapidly to distant stations located in roots and flowers.
At its destination, the report suggests, the messenger RNA probably influences the level of some other protein. That level conveys information to local tissues about, for instance, the overall physical condition of the plant, the season of the year or the presence of an invading pathogen. (UCD, 1999)
That may seem simplistic, but our own experience of intelligence has its roots in very similar chemical exchanges. The identification of mRNA in plant phloem means that while plants may not have a central nervous system, they do have the equivalent of a brain: a distributed brain that operates throughout their entire organism, rather than concentrated into a single organ (though, even that idea has come under pressure from the findings of neurologists like Antonio Damasio, who summarized the conclusions of his research by saying, “the mind is embodied, not just embrained&rdquo.
Researchers have even discovered the chemical markers of stress in plants, just like they have identified the chemical markers of stress in humans. Such evidence suggests that plants might even experience some analogue of emotion.
Koussevitzky, looking at the end of the signaling pathway, found the corresponding binding factor known that ABI4, a known plant transcription factor. It prevents light-induced regulatory factors from activating gene expression. Additional work in the project had determined that the chloroplast-localized, nuclear-encoded protein GUN1 is required for integrating multiple stress-derived signals within the chloroplast. This work was conducted by the first co-author of the article, Ajit Nott, who was a research associate in Dr. Chory’s lab.
Many of the nuclear genes that encode chloroplast proteins are regulated by a “master switch” in response to environmental conditions. This “master switch,” like a binary computer, can activate or de-activate certain sets of genes based on stress signaling processes.
“One of our suggestions in the paper is that ABI4 seems like a prime candidate to be the ‘master switch,’” Koussevitzky said. “ABI4 binds to a newly identified sequence motif, and by doing so prevents light-induced regulatory factors from activating gene expression. It has a role in so many signaling processes in the plant, it might actually be the ‘master switch’ that researchers have been looking for.” (Trent, 2007)
This kind of plant chemistry might seem too mundane to compare to human intellect, but we should remember that the electrochemical responses of the human brain—what we experience as emotion, intellect, and thought—appear materially only as similar chemical reactions. Animals use the same basic principles for their own central nervous systems. To see those same principles evidenced in plants to transfer information, respond to stress, and even recognize family strongly suggests that while plant perception must undoubtedly differ from animal perception in vast and important ways, we cannot deny the plausibility of its existence without also denying the personhood of our fellow human beings. Ultimately, we can recognize others only by empathy; by recognizing enough of ourselves in the other, that we become able to assign to them the same kind of personhood, autonomy, thoughts and feelings that we ourselves experience firsthand. In general, this becomes difficult unless we can communicate with that other, and recieve feedback to confirm that personhood. So, while we can see the plausibility for plant perception, the next question remains, can plants communicate?
Talking to Plants
When we come to the question of plant commuication, we find ourselves on even firmer ground. If we take “language” with all the arbitrary strictness that linguists have added to it in recent years to fight the losing battle of keeping it unique from the most complex and nuanced animal calls, similarly to the battles fought to maintain human uniqueness in the past in the face of evolution or the heliocentric solar system, then we certainly cannot speak of a plant language. Most obviously, plants do not communicate with sounds, but with the release of chemicals into the air—what animals percieve as scent.
While plants can tell when they are being eaten by herbivorous insects, for example, and begin producing compounds like nicotine or protease inhibitors that are unpalatable or harmful to such insects, they can also release chemical markers that attract predatory insects—essentially taking an attitude of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend,” and telling insects that might eat the herbivore where they can find dinner. Even if that cry for help goes unanswered, the herbivores themselves “hear” that call, know that the plant has discovered them, and will sometimes retreat, or at the very least, find some other place to lay their eggs.
Researchers have been unraveling these complex interactions between plants and insects since the 1980s, when Marcel Dicke, professor of insect-plant interactions at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, says he was “the first to show that plants communicate with the enemies of their enemies. We know that terpenes are involved and also methyl salicylate.”
Plants have learned not to use such signals without cause. In many species, the hormone methyl salicylate is emitted only when the plant is attacked by insects but not when other types of damage occur, Dicke notes. Apparently, plants recognize chemicals in herbivore oral secretions and in that way can discriminate between pruning shears and a herbivore, he says. (Wilkinson, 2001)
In other words, plant perception and communication carries subtlety and nuance, just like human language, or at least animal calls; plants have different things to “say,” differentiating between an insect’s bite and a blade’s cut.
We’ve even observed plants “eavesdropping” on each other, for their own protection.
Insect-damaged sagebrush has a novel way of broadcasting to nearby plants that a predator is in the area: It releases a bouquet of airborne odors and perfumes.
If wild tobacco is growing nearby, it will “eavesdrop” on these chemical signals, and in response, fortify its defenses against such plant-eaters as caterpillars.
In a study published in a recent issue of Oecologia, Cornell University researchers say they have found that the release of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from a wounded sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) primes the defenses of wild tobacco (Nicotiana attenuata) to prepare for herbivore attacks of its own.
But the tobacco plant holds off actually creating its defenses until it is attacked. That’s because the plant pays a price for deploying its arsenal.
Most of the proteins and compounds used for defense contain nitrogen and carbon, which also are needed to produce seeds. So there is a fitness cost for the tobacco. The defenses are only advantageous to the plant if an herbivore actually attacks, because production of proteins and compounds for defense results in fewer seeds.
“By priming its defense response the plant is not investing resources before it is actually attacked,” said Andre Kessler, the paper’s lead author and an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell. “This could be a crucial mechanism of plant-plant communication.” (Ramanujan, 2006)
We can observe similar eavesdropping among animals: monkeys watch birds for signs of predators, and a bird call signalling a particular predator prompts nearly every animal species in the area to react. In that sense, we have already seen how animals engage in a constant, inter-specific conversation on a fairly continual basis. With the dialogue already established between plants and the most abundant form of animal life—insects—it seems fair to ask whether this conversation might go even further, not just among and between all the animals of a particular place, but between plants and animals, as well.
As previously mentioned, animal life evolved on top of plant life; plants form the foundation of all animal food chains, as the only multi-cellular organisms capable of actually creating food from the sun. From trophic level to trophic level, the entire animal kingdom exists as a community built on top of the plant world. But plants also provide more than just food; they also provide medicine, both for themselves and for every animal species.
Antifungal, antibiotic, or antimicrobial (preinfectious) compounds protect the plant from invading pathogenic organisms. For example: The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipfera) produces a number of strongly antimicrobial alkaloids (dehydroglaucine and liriodenine) that it stores in its heartwood to protect it from invasion by microorganisms. Chicory (Cichorium intybus) produces a number of strongly antifungal compounds to protect its leaves and roots from pathogenic fungi. The compounds are so potent that even when chicory roots are kept moist on a plate for lengthy periods they will not mold. Other chicory compounds strongly protect against damage or infection from nematodes and other small organisms. Plant antimicrobial compounds such as those in chicory are active against microorganisms in exceptionally minute concentrations, ranging from one part per thousand to one part per million. During infection other kinds of compounds can be brought into play. Aromatic coumarins in such plants as potatoes increase rapidly at the site in response to any pathogenic organism. Cyanogenic compounds are also commonly present in at least a thousand plants where they are released as hydrogen cyanide gas to kill invading organisms.
In many instances invading pathogens release their own compounds that are toxic to the plant. Plants immediately begin to identify these compounds and create chemistries designed to counter them. At the same time, the plant will begin to generate unique compounds&mdashhytoalexins—at the site of infection that are never present in the plant until an infection occurs. When fungal spores take hold on a leaf surface, for instance, and begin inserting growth tubes into the leaf, a plant may begin to synthesize a phytoalexin specific for that fungus. The synthesis begins immediately, can be detected after an hour or two, and reaches its highest concentration in 48 to 72 hours. The phytoalexin is concentrated in leaf cells and pushed out onto the surface of the leaf where the fungus has taken hold. (Buhner, 2002)
This creates the evolutionary foundation of herbalism; why plants make such effective medicine, not only for themselves, but also for animals. Chemoreception—the closely-related senses of smell and taste—show evidence of having developed as one of the very first senses in animals. The ability to understand plant communication offered an essential evolutionary advantage animals required to survive: being able to understand what plants “said” enabled them to find which plants they could eat, which plants would cure their illness, and which plants they needed to survive. With chemicals like pheromones, animals even communicate with one another in the chemical “language” of plants. The universal “odornet” of an ecology comes from both plants and animals, and both plants and animals percieve it, understand it, and act upon it. (Watson, 2001)
In other words, the smells of various plants have meaning, just as the vocalizations of animals have meaning; we can understand those meanings, act on them, and even produce similar signals of our own that communicate our own thoughts and feelings. It may occur at a level of chemical interaction we have become unfamiliar with, and it may not fall under our conscious control, but plants and animals communicate constantly. If you have ever smelled a flower and thought the odor was pleasing, you have experienced plant communication firsthand.
Learning from the Spirits
Wild humans claim that they learn about herbal medicines and wild edible plants from the plants themselves, and claim to communicate with them regularly. We normally dismiss these claims as nonsense, but given the communication we have already seen between other animals and plants, might we need to take another look at what we have all too often ignored as primitive superstition?
Such cultures certainly honor their sense of smell more than we generally do. The Ongee people of the Andaman Islands elevate their sense of smell to a cosmic principle, and associate personality with odor, and place the seat of the spirit in the nose, rather than the brain or even the heart. (Watson, 2001) But, if such cultures genuinely do communicate with plants, their primary means of doing so doubtless relies on not relying on smell alone.
There are beings, many of them human beings, that see, smell, hear, remember, sense more than we do. This is not a genetic accident, like being taller than six-foot-five or having an IQ of 150 or high cheekbones. This is a matter of culture. The human beings who maintain these hyper-refined senses are hunter-gatherers. Their impressive powers of perception have been noted and detailed by just about every student of hunter-gatherer groups. It is not only that they sense more than the rest of us do, but that they do so in a qualitatively different fashion. … The term “synaesthesia” describes something every child knows. In fact, Merleau-Ponty believes that we have “unlearned how to see, hear, and, generally speaking, to feel.” Synaesthesia is the mental function (or suite of functions) in which the senses run together, in which colors have a feel to them and tastes have a color. We speak of a loud shirt, of bright music, yet how often do we sense reality this way? For Abram and other observers, the phenomenon marks a total immersion in sense, when the observer is no longer in control, no longer separating and analyzing sight, sound, and texture, and becomes a part of his sensual surroundings. That is, the observer calls forth the world. (Manning, 2005)
This synaesthetic perspective offers the possibility of actually engaging plants in communication; trying to understand, catalogue, and analyze the slightly varying scents by which plants communicate consciously would surely overwhelm us almost immediately, yet we can percieve far more than we can consciously articulate. Much of our brain’s conscious function centers on filtering out the stimuli from our senses. Synaesthesia means that we can “see” and “hear” as well as smell what plants are “saying,” in a process that involves our noses as much as our imaginations. To most of us, the internal, anthropocentric nature of imagination seems self-evident, but ideas about the nature of imagination vary from culture to culture.
This article weighs cultural perspectives about imagination’s location and function as the exclusive domain of human cognition in conventional theories of educational development and developmental psychology. From a Haudenosaunee or Mohawk perspective, we notice that minds colonized by these assertions concerning the universality of imagination’s origins and functions are contributing dimensions to larger conceits maintained by anthropocentrically biased cultures. Cultures colonized by these conceits tautologically confirm the interior sources of their intelligence. Minds colonized by such conceits think and conceive of themselves in this grammar of possessive individualism. Onkwehonwe (unassimilated, traditional Haudenosaunee), in contrast, regard any assumption concerning the existence of autonomous, anthropogenic minds to be aberrations that violate the unity, interrelation, and reciprocity between language and psychology, landscape and mind. The ecology of traditional Haudenosaunee territory possesses sentience that is manifest in the consciousness of that territory, and that same consciousness is formalized in and as Haudenosaunee consciousness. Of course, other beings manifest that consciousness in their literature of tracks,chirrups,and loon calls.
Onkwehonwe mind everything because everything minds Onkwehonwe.
Haudenosaunee minds are composed not just of visible ecological domains but also by the numinous qualities of those domains that, allowed to mature, express the fullness of traditional territory. Old-growth minds and cultures mature, emerge, and encompass the old growth of their traditional territory. Haudenosaunee minds are congruent with their traditional territories but more important, Haudenosaunee minds are required to accomplish that symmetry in accomplishing their authenticity. (Sheridan & Longboat, 2006)
“Old growth” societies do not see imagination as an illusion or strictly internal human idyll; rather, they see imagination as a form of communication, by which a human can percieve what a given environment says. If we take a moment to consider such claims seriously, we can see a number of points that add up to a plausibility that we have systematically denied and turned a blind eye to:
Plants communicate with chemicals released into the air. These chemicals carry mutually-agreed meanings understood even by other species of plants, and even other animals, especially insects that live in a close community with plants.
The animal sense of smell provided an evolutionary advantage precisely for understanding plant communication.
While the human sense of smell lacks much of the precision some other animals possess, humans do experience synaesthesia naturally; allowing imagination to wander and freely assign mental images and feelings to particular smells would thus follow evolutionary pathways, naturally relying on the mutually-agreed meanings of various smells. Just as dreams try to match mental images to internal body states, imagination would try to match mental images to a wealth of subconsciously and synaesthetically percieved sensory stimuli.
Or, put more bluntly, imagination represents, at least in part, the human perception of plant communication.
This can seem very suspect to us, with our habit of dismissing imagination, but we should remember that neurologically, our brain constantly matches various sense impressions to memories and patterns it has previously encountered; thus, we can percieve a particular pattern of light and shadow, and recognize it as a human face, or a tree. Autism arises precisely when this pathway breaks down; an autistic person percieves a human face only as a collection of objects, failing to match those impressions to the pattern of a human face. When we dream, internal body states run through our brain, and become matched against these same patterns; a dragon in a dream might simply come from the best representation found to match the burning, painful feeling of acid reflux. Likewise, synaesthetic imagination allows us to understand what plants tell us, as our brains scramble to match the chemical signals to the best patterns it can fit. If we can learn to trust our imaginations again, it certainly seems plausible that we could find in it a pathway of communication with the more-than-human world.
The true test for such a claim must lie in repeatability: if we both listen to the same plant, we should “hear” the same message. Cultural differences present a major hurdle to such a study, though. Our culture has not just neglected this kind of perception, it has actively demeaned it. What even earlier civilizations called “the discernment of spirits” has become relegated to mere superstition, thanks largely to our inability to understand “spirit” apart from our anthropocentric superstitions. If we can compare our ability in this regard to playing an advertising jingle on a kazoo, then “old growth” cultures play Mozart with a full orchestra. To ask that question properly would really require a cross-cultural inventory.
The answer we find can seem astounding; separated sometimes by vast gaps of time and space, indigenous herbalists report astoundingly similar experiences with the same plants, even in places where cultural transmission seems impossible. They describe precisely this kind of encounter with plants, and it serves as the basis of fully functional ethnobotanical systems. Regardless of the epistemology we wish to assign to it—we can understand this equally well in our own scientific terms, or in the terms of the native epistemology that takes plant personhood for granted—the repeatability of plant communication resounds clearly across thousands of years of human experience.
Of course, full communication requires not just listening, but response. That end represents far less of a challenge; we communicate with plants all the time, whether we want to or not. We produce scents that animals and plants can easily decipher constantly, telling our sex, age, health, condition, diet, even emotional state. We broadcast these things continuously, in the form of constant chemical releases from our skin, our mouths, and the whole of our bodies. Just as plants can understand the chemical markers given off by one another, we know also that they can detect, for instance, the chemicals of an herbivorous insect’s mouth. Why should we assume that their ability to smell our own state would prove any less sophisticated than, say, a domesticated dog’s? As any dog-owner can attest, they retain the ability to smell even emotion from the pheromones, and various other chemicals we continuously emit. Given their complex defenses and communication, it seems terribly unlikely that a plant would fail to smell a larger animal’s hunger, say from the slight scent of its salivating mouth, when it smells smaller animals so easily.
What does it mean to call someone, or something, a &ldquoerson”? In recent years, abortion, “corporate personhood,” artificial intelligence, and animal rights have all challenged civilization’s usual concept of a &ldquoerson” as simply an individual specimen of Homo sapiens sapiens. Does a fetus count as a person, or not? Can a sufficiently “intelligent” program count as a person? Do great apes count as people? If rationality represents our defining criteria, we must recognize that a significant overlap exists between the most intelligent great apes, and the least intelligent people. That criteria even opens the floor for crows, ravens, dolphins, and other animals, even bears. Noting the problem of keeping bears away from garbage cans designed with more complex locks in Yosemite National Park, one ranger there noted that while bears could still get into them, some campers could not, saying, “There is considerable overlap between the intelligence of the smartest bears and the dumbest tourists.”
Graham Harvey defines animism as “the label given to worldviews in which the world is understood to be a community of living persons, only some of whom are human. (An older use of the term to label a putative ‘belief in spirits’ is less useful.)” The usual reference to “tree spirit,” for example, seems redundant; “spirit” simply indicates a person. Trees represent a particular kind of person (or “spirit” referring to a “tree spirit” simply projects Western dualism onto a monistic perception. This older view of personhood has obvious advantages over the more recent, anthropocentric understanding that civilization has developed, now that critical “edge” examples have begun to break down that model.
Irving Hallowell introduced the term “other-than-human person” in his description of Ojibwe animism, noting that notions of animate or inanimate took center stage in Ojibwe language. Hallowell famously asked one Ojibwe elder if “all the stones we see about us are alive.” The elder responded, somewhat amused, “No! But some are.”
Ojibwe specifically, and animists generally, accept and treat as persons everything they encounter that acts like a person—regardless of its nature. This includes humans, but it also includes animals, plants, and even some rocks, weather systems, stories, and so forth. In this understanding, recognizing persons has much more importance than the objective state of “being” a person. Ultimately, existentialist and post-modern skepticism proves difficult to entirely refute; we cannot know anything beyond our own experience, not even the personhood of other human beings. True communication always eludes us. All communication proves imperfect and fallible. The escape from this spiral of existential doubt exists only in empathy. Only empathy allows us to recognize the personhood even of other humans. When we draw our circle of empathy too close, and withhold the recognition of personhood from those who deserve it, we call such a person a sociopath.
From the “old growth” perspective, a fairly good description of civilization would focus on the systematic normalization of sociopathy. Our attitudes towards deforestation, the environment, pharmaceuticals, mass extinction, global climate change and a host of interrelated issues all contribute ot the overall picture of a sociopath. According to Jean Piaget, animism and the &ldquoathetic fallacy” represent cognitive deficits that children grow out of. Without anyone to tell them so, “old growth” cultures encountered other-than-human persons and treated them as such. Plants can recognize their family; they communicate with each other and with other species, both plant and animal; they experience stress; in short, they act like people. To not recognize that requires specific and significant effort. We must methodically train our children to withhold their empathy, or they will continue treating all manner of non-human things as people. Animism comes from humanity’s natural condition; we have to teach anything else.
By withholding our empathy, we act like sociopaths. If we trust our sensuous experience of the world, the way the world presents itself to our senses, then the personhood of plants becomes self-evident. They act like people, as we can plainly see. So why would we not treat them as people?
The Animal’s Dilemma
The animal kingdom evolved on top of the plant world; the bottom of the animal food chain, herbivores, simply eats plants. Carnivores eat them. That forms trophic levels, as energy flows up and down, but in the end, the world belongs primarily to plants. Animals, one might say, simply exist as plants by other means.
If we recognize the personhood of plants, then we throw ethical vegetarianism into crisis. Peter Singer provided the philosophical basis of much of the animal rights movement by his argument that because animals can suffer, causing their suffering entails a moral cost. Thus, we should prefer vegetarianism on ethical grounds, because vegetarianism causes less suffering.
Yet we have seen that plants experience stress. Having never experienced life as a plant, none of us can say what that feels like, even though an exercise of basic empathy makes it as clear as the suffering of other animals. Stress arises in animal bodies as a flood of cortisol. We see very similar responses in plants under stress—as animals eat them, or they dry up, or otherwise suffer. We can empathize more easily with animals, because we have experienced that flood of cortisol and understand t not just as a chemical reaction, but as an emotion. Why should empathy not suffice to recognize that simply changing the particular chemicals in a different form of life makes it substantially (or, more to the point, ethically) different? The experience no doubt differs, as the whole plant experience of the world must radically differ from our own, but we can still empathize, and we can still recognize that whatever form it takes, the plant obviously still suffers.
That means that vegetarianism has no greater ethical claim than carnivorism; in either case, some living thing, some person, suffers and dies. That presents us with the basic dilemma of animal life: all animals live only by killing others. The dying and rising god, the ouroboros, even the supposed Paleolithic shrines where cave bear skulls sat with their own femurs stuck into their mouths, point to an ancient understanding of that inescapable truth of animal life.
How, then, do animals justify their existence? We should note that in the hundreds of millions of years that animals have evolved, plants have found ways to make them useful. Animals give back more than they take. Their existence has made ecologies richer and more vibrant. By taking its life from others, every animal binds itself with every meal to the most sacred covenant: the living community has laid down its life for the animal, and that binds the animal to the living community, to use that life given as a gift to enrich that community, to defend that landbase, to give back more than it takes. Civilized mythology often anthropomorphized the land as a dying and rising god, and just as often restricted that god to wheat alone, but echoes of that basic notion can still be seen even in modern Christianity: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’” (Luke 22:19-20) Long before Christianity proclaimed that Jesus had died for our sins, animists understood that with every meal, the persons in the land around them—their own siblings—had given their lives for them.
Thus, every animal kills to live. That rules every animal’s inescapable fate. We cannot escape that basic truth; if we try, we only serve to delude ourselves, and forget the responsibility that animal life comes with. Because we kill to live, we buy our lives at the cost of that sacred covenant to justify our existence, to give back more than we take.
Every animal gives back more than it takes; that veritably defines sustainability. Modern civilization, however, does not. That does not mean that humans have become innately fallen; even today, humans live in ways that give back more than they take. Humans created the Amazon rain forest and the Great Plains, and after thousands of years of harvesting salmon in the Pacific Northwest, more salmon lived there than before. That kind of legacy follows from a sustainable culture, and a thousand years of human life when every generation understands their place in a more-than-human world, acknowledges and respects other-than-human persons, and takes seriously the covenant that the animal’s dilemma creates, and gives back more than they take.
Devvy Kidd authored the booklets, Why A Bankrupt America and Blind Loyalty, which sold close to 2,000,000 copies. Devvy appears on radio shows all over the country, ran for Congress and is a highly sought after public speaker. Get a free copy of Why A Bankrupt America from El Dorado Gold. Devvy is a contributing writer for www.NewsWithViews.com.
Far more unites men and women than divides us, but when it comes to negative stereotypes, women win hands down. Girls are "bossy" and grow into women who "nag", while boys of all ages are "authoritative" and "natural-born leaders". When men go out for a drink together it is considered positive social interaction or "networking"; when women get together they "gossip". But the stereotype that many women hate the most is "bitch". Men bitch too, of course, only in their case it is dubbed Machiavellian (with a palpable hint of respect) or they are hailed for their acerbic wit. As the actor Bette Davis once said: "When a man gives his opinion, he's a man; when a woman gives her opinion, she's a bitch."
For centuries, the straight definition of the word bitch was simply a sexually promiscuous woman. Then, as women became more powerful throughout the 20th century, the definition expanded to include being duplicitous. Now men tend to call women bitches when they do not get what they want from them. So, if a woman turns a man down for a date, she is a bitch. If she climbs the career ladder faster than him, she is a bitch. If she becomes his boss and turns down one of his ideas, she is - you guessed it - a bitch.
Current slang associations underline the fact that, for some, the idea of being called a bitch is just as derogatory as ever. Bikers "ride bitch" (pillion), but only when their own bike is unavailable, of course. Among heroin users, the major artery for injection is known as "your bitch", hence the Prodigy's most famous track Smack My Bitch Up. That small, unattractive tuft of hair that some men like to grow beneath their lower lip is also known as a bitch, presumably because of its vague resemblance to female genitalia.
Given all its negative connotations, it is not surprising that women fear being called a bitch. In fact, though, it is something that we should embrace. Why? The US feminist magazine BITCH explains it like this on its website: "When it's being used as an insult, bitch is an epithet hurled at women who speak their minds, who have opinions and do not shy away from expressing them and who do not sit by and smile uncomfortably if they are bothered or offended. If being an outspoken woman means being a bitch, we will take that as a compliment, thanks."
The website Heartless Bitches International agrees, announcing on its homepage that Bitch means Being In Total Control Honey. It is a sign of strength in a woman and of honesty.
After all, look at some of the women who get called bitches. Michiko Kakutani, the famously ferocious book critic on the New York Times, has been accused by the male literary establishment of being "weird", and a "feminist" who deliberately trashes the likes of Norman Mailer simply because he is male. You can almost read the word bitch between the lines, can't you? But Kakutani is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who is dedicated to literature. Her reviews are honest appraisals of each book rather than sycophantic hero-worship of incredibly well-known authors, which we tend to get this side of the Atlantic. It is hard to believe Kakutani would suffer the same sort of criticism for giving her opinion if she were a man.
Bitching thrills because it flouts manners and speaks the truth. Feminists such as Germaine Greer and Julie Burchill excel at the art because they dare to say what they really think of other people, even when that offends. Then there is Joan Rivers, one of the funniest women alive, who has made her name savaging other famous women, usually over their appearance. What she says she hates is the dishonesty, the pretence, that they have had no cosmetic surgery. And what could be seen as cruelty is mitigated by her own self-deprecation: "I wish I had a twin so that I could know what I looked like without plastic surgery. My best birth control now is to leave the lights on."
Many of us are still so constrained by conventional stereotypes of how women should be - selfless, kind, enabling of others, calm and supportive - the good girl essentially, that the real girl inside gets denied. We take insults on the chin and say nothing. We find it hard to compete or ask for that pay rise because we are not sure we deserve it. We are not supposed to shout or get angry about all the inequities we face as women. We become the bitch, the bad girl, when we want more, when we are not prepared to make do with what we have and when being heard is more important than being liked. That is a liberating feeling. If we fear being labelled as a bitch, we still seek validation from men on their terms rather than ours.
Of course, there is a huge difference between the "strong" bitch I am writing about, the woman who happily flouts conventional female stereotypes, and the "weak" bitch whose persona proceeds from vulnerability and who manipulates others to make herself feel stronger. Teenage girls bitch to bond when they feel vulnerable, and bitching to bully is rife in our schools. This is rarely detected because it can be very subtle, but when women bitch from a position of sheer envy and vulnerability it can have devastating effects - as we saw in the Big Brother house last week. Our culture is full of this kind of weak bitching, and girls have little guidance as to how to move from that ugly, bad-bitch stereotype to being a strong, good bitch who stands up to the world with courage.
Bitching can be clever, with far more wit and irony than sarcasm. It is also more subtle than the blunt instrument of insult. Joan Crawford once boasted that her first husband, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, had introduced her to the great plays, while her second husband, Franchot Tone, had taught her what they meant, along with "words like 'metaphor' and 'transference'". Jean Harlow's response when she heard this was, "And she taught him words like 'jump' and 'fuck'."
A good bitch with someone you trust can be cathartic when life as a woman gets you down. It is better for your health than Prozac and cheaper than therapy. Few things are more interesting than other people - talking about them behind their backs is often illuminating as well as entertaining. We bitch to bond for support and when we spar as equals it can be incredibly funny. For instance, broadcasters Gill Pyrah and Susan Marling have been friends for years. At the height of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust era, Pyrah was the proud owner of an all-in-one light blue space suit with metallic lining. When Marling saw it she said, "Lovely. And you're oven-ready."
Think of all the fantastic bitches that have gone before us - from Jane Austen, Margot Asquith and Eleanor Roosevelt to the extraordinary verbal rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Lauren Bacall and Greta Garbo were all strong, inspiring women who fired off as many great lines off-screen as on. "Why am I so good at playing bitches? I think it's because I'm not a bitch," said Bette Davis, warming up for the perfect punchline. "Maybe that's why Miss Crawford always plays ladies."
Life would be extremely dull without these women or the characters they created, Davis as veteran movie bitch Margo Channing in All About Eve, or Crawford as Crystal in The Women. In literature, there are Emma, the Bingley Sisters and Becky Sharp, female characters who thrill us because they dare to present women as they really are: clever, calculating and verbally dexterous. A healthy malevolence lurks beneath the good girl facade. Take Mae West, for instance, who wrote most of her own material, as well as being a sex symbol. In her list of 15 "Things I'll Never Do" (which includes cook, bake, sew or take another woman's man), number seven says it all - "Play mother parts, sad parts, dumb parts or a virtuous wife, betrayed or otherwise. I pity weak women, good or bad, but I can't like them. A woman should be strong either in her goodness or badness."
In an ideal, ungendered world, everybody would be nicer to each other. All women are human, with a wide range of strengths and weaknesses, just like men. We are just as competitive and ambitious, we get just as angry but we are not supposed to show it. Girls still grow up squeezing themselves into stereotypical "good" girl notions of femininity (and their feet into uncomfortably high-heeled shoes) and when we are not aware of how fettered we are by these stereotypes we veer towards being the kind of weak bitches who put other women down simply to make ourselves feel better. But there is a much stronger bitch inside each one of us just bursting to get out. As Madonna once said, "I'm tough, ambitious and I know what I want. If that makes me a bitch, OK." Real women are loud, brave, outspoken, astute and funny, as well as kind, loving and supportive. So let her out girls, for "life's a bitch and then you die". You might as well get what you want from it while you can.
WHOEVER SQUEALED, PORK ADS ARE OUT By Julian Lee, Marketing Reporter, www.smh.com.
Oct 28 - A CONFRONTING advertising campaign highlighting the plight of factory-farmed pigs has been rejected by some women's magazines amid suggestions that it might upset the meat industry.
Eight titles have refused to run the ads containing images that mimic recipe features found in such magazines.
A company that sells space on billboards in supermarket car parks has also stopped the ads.
The setback has forced the backers of the $500,000 campaign - including a Hollywood studio producing a film in the vein of Babe - to attempt to book ads in tomorrow's newspapers.
Brian Sherman, director of the animal protection group Voiceless, part of an alliance funding the ads, speculated that the meat industry might threaten to withdraw the $800,000 it spends each year on magazine advertising.
"Obviously media companies get advertising from groups that might not want to see this advertising, " Mr Sherman said.
Marie Claire, Delicious and Good Weekend are among those refusing to take the ads, leaving Woman's Day and the Australian Women's Weekly to run them.
The ads feature colour photographs of freshly cooked pork dishes with headlines such as Traumatised Suckling Piglet with Severed Tail accompanying text detailing how week-old piglets have their tails snipped and their eye teeth removed with clippers without any pain relief.
"It might be confronting, but it's the reality," said Glenys Oogjes, executive director of Animals Australia, which is also behind the campaign.
Paramount Pictures made a "significant" donation to Animals Australia after it found homes for the 40 piglets used during the Australian shoot of Charlotte's Web.
Publishers denied they were under any pressure from the meat industry to reject the ads. They said the ads were rejected because they were inappropriate.
A pork industry spokesman said the ads misrepresented farming practices.
PIG AD CAMPAIGN MISLEADING, SAY PORK PRODUCERS GROUP
Oct 30 - Animal rights activists have launched a new advertising campaign against pig farming.
The ads, put together by the groups Voiceless and Animals Australia, depict pigs in small pens with minimal room and piglets having their eye teeth clipped.
But Australian Pork Limited says the campaign is misleading.
Spokesman Andrew Spencer says the ads are designed to be emotional and are not an accurate reflection of how pigs are grown commercially in Australia.
"The types of words they're using are not trying to portray the independent view of the way pigs are raised," he said.
"A lot of the things they are talking about in terms of practices are done exactly for reasons of optimising animal welfare and whilst it's a little bit hard for people who are not familiar with this type of thing to understand that, it's in the absolute interests of pig farmers that their animals are well looked after."
Mangosteen, Noni, Goji, Xango, Thai-Go, G3 and other fruit juices claim to provide nutritional health benefits, or do they? I have tested all of these so-called nutritional health drinks and they are all highly acidic at a pH ranging from 2.5 to 3.0 with an ORP (oxidative reduction potential for buffering acids and providing body energy) ranging from +250 mV to +450 mV.
All of these so-called nutritional health beverages would have the same toxic acidic effects as drinking an acidic cola drink at a pH of 2.5 with an ORP at +250 mV. Great for cleaning the corrosion off the battery cables of your car, but destructive to the digestive system and especially the delicate intestinal villi of the small intestine where blood is made. All of these exotic, proton rich fruits and fruit drinks will pull energy from your body robbing you of needed electrons to keep your body running healthy and strong.
You are better off eating or drinking green vegetables like broccoli and other electron rich, cruciferous vegetables that contain several anti-acidic compounds that have been shown to provide protection against cancerous causing agents like nitric and lactic acid. However, there aren't any companies selling expensive broccoli juice. Or are there?
The reason that products such as Mangosteen, Xango, Goji and Noni seem more attractive is because the ingredients are "exotic" and most people just don't know much about the ingredients. The truth is that these exotic fruits and fruit juices are generally pasteurized, full of sugar, and will acidify the blood and tissues making you sick, tired and fat! Whatever little nutritional value they might claim to offer is lost in their saturation of hydrogen ions making these beverages void of any nutritional or energetic value!
Yes, there is some research on xanthones, a phytochemical found in Mangosteen, Xango, Goji, Noni, but the scientific interpretations are incorrect. The phytochemical xanthone is a potent anti-acid by itself.
But, the value of the xanthones found in these exotic fruits are not sufficient enough to neutralize the high concentrations of acidic hydrogen ions, leaving these beverages highly acidic at 2.5 to 3.0 pH and deficient of any energy value at +250 mV and up.
I would suggest looking at the published research on bioflavonoids (lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, luctein, beta-carotene, and over 600 more of them), polyphenols (which include proanthocyandins, anthocyanidins, catechins, etc.), indole-3-carbinol and sulfurophane (broccoli extract and cruciferous vegetables), iridoids (mainly found in olive fruit), not to mention all the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants naturally found in electron rich fruits and vegetables. The list could go on and on and on. Nearly all of these compounds are found in the nutritional supplement that are in "The Comparative Guide To Nutritional Supplements" and in our book, The pH Miracle for Weight Loss. You could literally pull up hundreds of thousands of studies on all of these phytochemicals.
Xanthones may have beneficial properties in the right concentrations but it is only one compound among thousands that have well-researched benefits. If people think they are getting some miraculous compound, secret juice or magic formula, they are being misinformed. What they are getting is a highly acidic, enervating fruit juice that will increase the acidic state of the body and damage the delicate alkaline pH of the digestive and circulatory system. Add mangosteen, Noni, Goji or Xango fruit or juice to your current vitamin/mineral regimen and expect short term benefits from the acidic laxative affect and long term damage to the small intestine and large intestine. Eventually the acidic damage done to the small intestine will affect the quality of the blood that will in turn affect that quality and health of every cell in the human body. This can then lead to a serious health challenge. The nutritional health benefits of these exotic fruits are highly exaggerated and misleading.
A scientific scale called the ORAC scale was developed to measure how well foods neutralize oxidation or acids. Due to the varied antioxidants (water soluble, fat soluble, etc.) in the tablets, there really isn't an accurate way of giving a legitimate ORAC score to a nutritional supplement. As such, the ORAC scale has little relevance to Mangosteen, Noni, Goji and Xango juice!
The following offers a more detailed explanation of some disadvantages of relying on ORAC scores too heavily. In addition, there are some marked drawbacks to the ORAC score.
The disadvantages of using the ORAC score, or at least in relying too much upon it, are several, such as...
1) Despite the fact that it is sometimes touted as a "Total Antioxidative Power" score, the ORAC assay can only measure one particular type of antioxidative activity, namely the ability of antioxidants to quench or neutralize only one specific type of oxidizing free radical (aka "reactive oxygen species", or RO known as the peroxy (e.g., as found in peroxide) radical. The biggest problem with this test is the peroxide radical is released by the white blood cells to buffer or neutralize metabolic acids to help maintain the delicate pH balance of the body fluids at 7.365. All "oxygen species" or free radicals are released by the cells, including the white blood cells to neutralize the damaging affects of metabolic acids.
You see, free radicals are good guys not bad guys and are part of the body's protective system against hydrogen ions or acids. When you drink Mangosteen, Noni Juice, Goji Juice, Xango, Thai-Co, G3, etc. you have just increased your acidic levels of hydrogen ions and the body responds by releasing free radicals to buffer the poison or acid or hydrogen ions from these exotic drinks. In truth, the ORAC assay measures the acidity or toxicity of a food or drink, not its ability to neutralize free radicals.
2) Thus, the ORAC score when interpreted correctly offers a picture of the true antioxidant, or better said, anti-acid power of an antioxidant or mixture of antioxidants since antioxidants like xanthone works with free radicals like peroxide by quenching or buffering metabolic acids. Other alkalizing free radical species commonly found in the body and released by the white blood cells are the superoxides, triplet oxygen, singlet oxygen, and the hydroxyl radical which protects us against acids from digestion, respiration, fermentation and degeneration. Indeed, some highly powerful and effective antioxidants or anti-acids like sodium bicarbonate, potassium hydroxide, sodium chlorite, singlet oxygen, superoxides, triplet oxygen and peroxide would score extremely poor or low on an ORAC assay. What does this tell us about the ORAC score? It is being misinterpreted!
3) An excellent example of naturally occurring antioxidants or anti-acids (and in reality there are plenty more) are the carotenoid family of antioxidants which includes beta carotene, lycopene, luctien, canthaxanthxin and zeaxanthin, among others, and which are found extensively in strongly-colored fruits and vegetables. Most carotenoids show little activity against the peroxy radical because they work together to buffer metabolic acids.
5) The ORAC score derived from the ORAC assay shows only antioxidant activity in liquids in a test tube (in vitro) rather than within complex living biological systems within the body. The problem here is that some substances or foodstuffs may show great ORAC scores in test tube measures, but may perform poorly in the body due to poor bioavailability, and vice versa.
6) A number of incorrect or invalid ORAC scores for common fruits and vegetables are now in circulation due to faulty methods of testing or faulty interpretation and reporting, or both. Why? Because the ORAC score does not take in consideration the fermentation of sugars that turns to acid in the body.
7) The original ORAC assay method, called the B-PE method (for beta-phycoerythrin, a reagent), has been largely discredited in the scientific literature in the past few years as being inaccurate and yielding poor repeatability. Many of the original advocates in the antioxidant field of the ORAC B-PE Assay, including Dr. Guohua Cao, a USDA research scientist) now recommend a more sophisticated ORAC assay, called the ORAC FL method, where the "FL" stands for fluorescein, a fluorescent reagent used in the test. The newer ORAC FL method yields an ORAC score ranging from 95% to about 400% (4X) of the older ORAC score, and, on average, yields a score which is about 120% to 200% of the score from the older ORAC B-PE method.
8) Unfortunately, the vast majority of ORAC assay scores to be found on the web and in the scientific literature for various foodstuffs, including fruits, vegetables, juices, and supplements, were produced using the older ORAC B-PE method.
9) Indeed, most of the ORAC scores to be found in the literature and on the Internet are from a set of ORAC scores published by the USDA in the late 1990's, all derived using the ORAC B-PE method. There has also been some confusion in interpretation of the USDA scores, with some companies and authors reporting scores for freeze-dried (concentrated) samples as scores for fresh samples, resulting in inflated scores, and with others reporting the score in units per 100 grams (or even 65 or 6 grams) rather than the standard score which is reported in ORAC units per gram.
With any of the putative "single score" "total antioxidant" assays, the older ORAC B-PE assay and the newer ORAC FL assay may offer a single score, but they hardly offer a true picture of total antioxidative or anti-acid ability.
Bottom line: stay away from all these exotic fruits and fruit drinks. They are all acidic and by drinking them you put your health and fitness at risk!
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