Archive for Environmental

If everyone were vegan, what would the world look like?


People choose to be vegan for many reasons, such has to avoid supporting cruelty to animals, for personal health, and for the health of the planet.

I know that the decision to avoid eating animal foods is not taken lightly. Many people struggle with the ethics of taking the life of another living sentient being, and have concluded that becoming vegan fits best with their integrity.

I too am completely against cruelty to animals. What is done to animals in big-agriculture factory-farms is despicable and I want nothing to do with it. Animals have just as much right to a good life as we humans do, in my opinion.

Furthermore with the climate crisis now at the forefront of consciousness, avoiding beef and dairy is commonly suggested as a way to reduce methane release into the atmosphere. Meat substitute products like Beyond Meat are becoming extremely popular.

So the question is, should we all become vegan? If everyone became vegan, what do you think our world would look like? Let’s think it through.

  1. First of all, since they would no longer be needed, cows, goats, sheep and chickens would probably go extinct, except for the odd example of each species kept in zoos.
  2. Harvesting annual crops actually has a very high kill rate of small animals, so is it really a valid to suggest that a eating plants-only diet is more humane?

    As Andrew French suggests in the above link, “If the primary goal of veganism is to reduce suffering, then many of us are vegan, and a diet composed of primarily grass-fed beef and dairy, as well as free-range chicken eggs and perennial plant products, is the most vegan diet that I can think of. A diet based on grass that is never tilled, with no worm disturbed, no gopher sliced in half, allows nature to grow and flourish without our annual agricultural blades, machines, and chemicals.”

  3. Most likely there would be more deforestation in order to have enough land to grow crops to feed the world. This would further accelerate climate change, as trees are the lungs of the planet.
  4. There would be more monocrops and consequently less biodiversity, also not good for the health of the planet. If the crops are conventionally grown, that would mean even more chemical run-off into streams impacting fish and wildlife.
  5. So much land devoted to farming would further impact migration routes of wild animals, reducing their habitat, and potentially causing those species to decline.
  6. After 2-5 years of vegan-only eating, many people, particularly those whose ancestry is from places that are cold and snowy for several months of the year, will notice a decline in their health. In general, humans are omnivores and need to get some nutrients from animal foods, although those with tropical ancestry may manage to stay healthy longer without animal foods.
  7. As a result of deforestation and even more planting of annual crops, desertification would further increase, which is already a huge world problem. I will get into why, below.

Somehow I have a feeling that the above list is not what vegans want at all.

Desertification, a process where fertile land slowly dries out and becomes desert, is a growing problem that is made worse with hotter climates, deforestation, and poor farming practices.

Please watch this wonderfully hopeful TED Talk about how to reverse desertification and store enough carbon to put a dent in the climate crisis!

Isn’t the Ted Talk wonderful? According to Allan Savory, the best way to prevent desertification is to introduce grazing animals to the land. The cows, bison, sheep, goats etc. trample the grasses down stopping moisture from evaporating, fertilize the land which helps the vegetation grow, while at the same time sequestering carbon. The key to preventing desertification is to keep the animals moving so they are not grazing on the same exact bit of land day after day.

The way I see it, for our health and the health of the planet I choose to follow the middle path. Not veganism, but also not continuing with the status quo that doesn’t think about the impact of factory farms. What we eat is a political statement that has huge impacts for the world we live in and want to live in.

Absolutely refuse to eat animal foods from big agriculture factory-farms to stop the animal cruelty. We have a lot of power by choosing where to spend our dollars. If enough people stop supporting cruel farming methods, big agriculture would be forced to change.

Instead, to protect our health and the health of the planet, when I choose to eat beef and dairy, I am picky enough to choose from a farm that I know pastures their animals, and lets them lead a good life. Cows being cows, grazing outside, with the farmers moving them from pasture to pasture like nature intended, in order to retain moisture, keep the grass growing and sequester carbon.

Pastured animals and the carbon they sequester offsets the methane they produce, and the resulting reversal of desertification of the land helps cool the planet.

And pastured animals provide far more nutrition than factory-farmed animals. Twelve times the omega 3, 6 times the CLA, double the beta carotene, 5 times the vitamin E and A, and no antibiotics or hormones as they are not needed, and virtually no e-coli risk.

Every one of us will have to face that one bad day when we die, and it is important that while we are here that we live. And that we allow our animal friends to fully enjoy their life on this planet too before their one bad day.

Life eats life – should we fault the lion for eating the deer? Many plants eat insects too. Is that immoral? And why is it bad to eat animals and not bad to eat plants? Plants are living creatures also.

Yes, choosing how to eat in the most ethical way possible is complicated. There is so much information to sift through, and it can be hard to consider the hard truths and not make an emotional decision. I told you the decision I arrived at, but really your choice is yours alone to make. My goal here is to provide you with information that maybe you had not thought about before, so that your decision can be an informed one.

(I think it is also worth mentioning that artificial meat products are extremely processed”. Beyond Meat is made with peas, which is better than soy, but no matter how you look at it, it is still processed.)

If you want to share this article, scroll to the very bottom and click the “share” icon to post on Facebook. If you want to subscribe or search for other posts by title or by topic, go to

Related tips:
On vegetarianism
Conventional vs. Organic vs Pasture-fed meats, poultry, eggs and dairy
Industrial agriculture – what’s the real cost of cheap food?
The problem with organic food
Improving nutrition by avoiding the grocery store
In defense of real meat

Savory, Allan How to Green the World’s Deserts and Reverse Climate Change TED TALK

French, Andrew Grass Fed Beef is the Most Vegan Item in the Supermarket Medium, May 12, 2018.

Purdy, Chase Plant-based meats sound healthy, but they’re still processed foods Quartz, July 1, 2019.

Eissen, Jill Have Your Meat and Eat It Too! Part 1 – 3 CBC Ideas Podcast, aired Aug 18, 25, Sept. 1, 2010.

Pollan, Michael The Omnivore’s Dilemma The Penguin Press, New York, 2006

Kenner, Robert Food Inc. Magnolia Home Entertainment, 2009.

Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration Price Pottenger Foundation, La Mesa CA, 1939.

Taubes, Gary Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health (Vintage) Alfred A Knopf, New York, 2007.

Euromed It’s a Jungle Out There! How Plants Communicate to Get Their Needs Met

Chek, Paul Vegetarianism, inside out


Copyright 2019 Vreni Gurd

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Natural Pest Control: How it Benefits your Health and the Environment

A guest tip on natural pest control – an important topic that never would have occurred to me to write about. I hope you like it.

Coexisting with nature is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t mean you have to allow critters to take over your home. Pest infestations can impact your family in a number of undesirable ways, creating an environment that’s unhealthy and, in many cases, downright intolerable. Fortunately, you don’t need to saturate your home with chemicals in order to keep pests at bay. By practicing natural pest control, you can encourage would-be intruders to live somewhere else while keeping your home, health, family, pets and the earth safe.

Negative Effects of Pest Infestations on Your Health

Stress: When you know your home is infested with rodents or insects, it’s hard to stop thinking about them. Your skin might crawl at the thought of bed bugs walking on you as you sleep, or you may start to feel phantom ants crawling across your arms. It’s normal to experience stress when your home is infested, and some homeowners still feel anxiety even after a pest control company has taken care of the problem. When you practice natural pest control, which focuses on prevention, you’ll find peace of mind in knowing you’re doing all you can to keep pests out.

Diseases: Rodents are notorious carriers of diseases such as the bubonic plague, Hanta virus, salmonellosis, tularemia, rat bite fever and leptospirosis. The scary thing is that a rodent doesn’t need to bite or touch you to pass on an illness. Simply being exposed to its droppings or nesting site can make you fall ill with, for example, the Hanta virus. Some of the diseases rodents carry present like the flu, making them initially difficult to properly diagnose until the illnesses are in their advanced stages.

Discomfort: What do mosquitoes, fleas and bed bugs have in common? Their bites make you feel itchy. While most insect bites are more annoying than harmful, scratching itchy spots can lead to a secondary infection.

Asthma triggers: Asthma is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in children and adults, and up to 60 percent of asthma sufferers are allergic to cockroaches. Merely touching a roach’s exoskeleton, which the bug can shed, can trigger an asthma attack. Using chemicals like toxic baits, fumigators or sprays to get rid of pests can trigger asthma symptoms and possibly make them worse than usual.

Toxic bites: Most spiders are harmless and meek, but there are a handful that can do major harm if they bite you. These include the recluse varieties, hobo, black widow, brown widow and red widow spiders.

Pest Prevention Tactics

The best way to practice natural pest control is by employing simple prevention techniques. These natural methods, when used regularly, can help you keep infestations at bay better than any toxic repellents. For example:

  • Don’t leave food out in the open.
  • Store pantry items in lidded glass or thick plastic containers.
  • Eliminate sources of standing water in and around your home.
  • Seal holes and cracks along the exterior of your home.
  • Use lids on your trash cans.
  • Keep your landscape mowed, pruned, weeded and manicured.
  • Clean your house regularly and keep it tidy.
  • Keep wood piles high, dry and away from your house.
  • Inspect your luggage for signs of bed bugs after traveling.
  • Inspect guest rooms for signs of bed bugs after you’ve had overnight visitors.
  • Plant insect-repelling plants and flowers around the exterior of your home, including mint, pennyroyal, petunias, tansy, rosemary, geraniums, marigolds, citronella and wormwood.

Home Infestations: What to Do

Pest infestations can happen in even the cleanest homes. The trick is quickly taking care of the problem by calling a green pest control company that practices Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM involves using knowledge of pest biology (with a bit of common sense thrown in) control pests. For example, technicians will identify the pests, get rid of their nesting sites, make it harder for the pests to access your home and use other natural pest control techniques to give you a healthy, critter-free environment. Green pest control companies use natural techniques whenever possible – in large part because they’re more effective both immediately and in the long term – and will choose the least-toxic treatments available when an application is necessary.

If you have a pest infestation, or think you have one, call a natural pest control company to schedule an inspection and learn personalized tips for keeping your home pest-free.

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This post was contributed by Eden Advanced Pest Technologies, the leading integrated pest management company in Western Washington and Oregon and serves both residential and commercial customers.

Copyright 2013 Eden Pest Control / Wellness Tips

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On vegetarianism


People choose to be vegetarian for many reasons, such has to avoid supporting cruelty to animals, for personal health, and for the health of the planet. Is vegetarianism really the best choice for achieving these objectives?

I’ve spoken to a lot of vegetarians as they come through my door for various reasons, and I know that the decision to avoid eating meat is not taken lightly. These people have struggled with the ethics of the issue, and have concluded that vegetarianism fits best with their integrity.

I too have given the issue a great deal of thought, but ultimately I’ve concluded that it is possible to eat a diet that includes meat in a way that fully values the life of an animal as much as a vegetarian would, and does not compromise the planet.

Many people believe that eating red meat is inherently unhealthy. They believe that red meat causes cancer and heart disease among other things, so becoming vegetarian would ensure greater health. But what would one have eaten 1000 years ago if one lived in a northern climate where the land was covered in snow for 6 months of the year? What would one eat in the middle of winter? Would it be even possible to be a vegetarian under those circumstances? I would bet that in the winter, animal foods would provide most if not all of the food eaten.

According to scientists and medical doctors that travelled the globe visiting traditional cultures before contact with "white man's food", those cultures were all extremely healthy, had perfect teeth and bone structure, and NONE of those cultures were vegetarian. They did not even have words in their language for today's chronic diseases.

Might it be that the reason red meat is linked to these diseases is that we are eating red meat from feed-lot animals that are not given their natural diet but instead one filled with antibiotics and hormones? They are kept confined in tiny pens so they get no exercise, and they are never let outside? Sick animals cannot make a healthy human.

However there is no evidence to show that eating meat from animals that ate their natural diet during their lifetime, and spent their days outside in the fresh air and sunshine is unhealthy. Pastured meat has a completely different fat profile than GMO corn-fed factory farmed meat. Pastured meat is higher in omega 3s and ALA, and is lower in saturated fat. Pastured animals have no need for antibiotics as they are healthy.

Most often when someone initially becomes a vegetarian their health improves dramatically, not only because this diet forces one to eat more vegetables, but also because usually vegetarians eat a whole-food diet and are more likely to avoid processed and packaged food. They are more likely to cook their food fresh, and will eat more of their food raw. These are huge steps in the right direction for improving health.

But human beings are omnivores, meaning our digestive tracts are designed to eat flesh foods. Some nutrients that we need to be healthy are extremely difficult to get without eating meat, and after a few years on a vegetarian diet, health can become compromised. A diet without meat means a diet very high in carbohydrates, which might be very problematic in sensitive individuals, even if those carbohydrates are whole.

If one needs animal foods to be healthy, is it a good idea to avoid them altogether? Do we fault the lion for eating a deer? Should the lion become a vegetarian too? Everywhere one looks in nature, life eats life and often killing in nature is far more brutal than what one would find in a meat-packing plant.

I agree that factory farming is terrible for the animals that have to endure that life. The animals spend their entire lives indoors crowded together, often standing or lying in their own excrement. They frequently don’t even have enough room to turn around. Beaks of chickens and tails of pigs are cut off. They are fed an unnatural diet they would never choose for themselves – one that accelerates their growth so they can be slaughtered sooner.

And because the pace that big-agribusiness animals are moved through the killing floor, sometimes the kill isn't clean, and the animals also suffer a painful death. Anyone with a heart that sees animals in these terrible, smelly, over-crowded places would be horrified, and it is understandable that knowing of such cruelty, one might choose to become a vegetarian.

But what if the animal lives its life fully expressing its cowness, or chickeness, or pigness, ending with only one bad day? Cows and chickens out in the fields, the cows doing what cows do best – grazing with the herd, and chickens doing what they do best – scratching in the cow paddies for the maggots they like so much. Pigs wallowing in mud to keep themselves cool. To me it is different if I know the animal had a good life, and that I’m eating it after its one bad day. After all, we all will have to face that one bad day too, at some point.

If we were all to become vegan (a vegetarian that consumes no animal products at all, including no eggs nor dairy), which is certainly what some vegans believe is the right thing to do, one might ask what would become of the animals we currently raise to eat? I think if there were no more need for them, it would make no economic sense to raise them, and they would soon go the way of the dodo bird. Do we really want a planet with no cows, chickens or pigs? Would cows, chickens and pigs choose extinction for their species if given the choice?

I also wonder sometimes why we don’t seem to have the same concern over killing plants to eat. They are also life-forms that communicate and interact with other life-forms. Is it only life that has eyes and a beating heart that ethically we should not kill? Furthermore, many plants actually eat animal protein in the form of insects, so if it is okay for a plant to eat meat, surely we can feel okay about it too?

Then there is the question of saving the planet. Raising animals in factory farms is not sustainable. The “excrement ponds” full of antibiotic and hormone-filled animal waste leaches into ground water and runs off into streams, polluting our drinking water as well harming the fish and amphibian life. There is a huge carbon footprint farming this way due to the chemical fertilizers used to grow the feed, and the transportation costs to carry the corn to the animals. Feed-lot animals are raised on oil. Not raising animals this way would be far friendlier to the planet, and this is another reason that people turn to vegetarianism.

But the other option is to raise animals on solar power, not oil. Fence off a portion of a field, let the cows in and allow them to eat the food they are meant to eat – grass. The following day, move the electric fence to another part of the field, and give the cows access to fresh pasture. Three days later, let the chickens into the area that the cows were, so they can tramp through the cow paddies and find the maggots and other goodies. The chickens will also fertilize the field with their manure, and they will spread all this manure around with their pecking and scratching. Because the grass is now short due the the grazing, the roots will drop to match the height of the leaf above the ground. This further nourishes the soil, and causes rapid grass growth. In about 5 weeks, that area of pasture can be grazed again, and the process repeats itself.

The key to make the system work is it must be a mixed farm rather than a one crop / one animal farm. We need to copy how nature works, and help it along to make it more efficient. Plants nourish the animals, which nourish the plants with their waste, and around the circle we go. No antibiotics needed since the animals are not sick. No chemical fertilizers needed because the animal waste provides the nourishment the plants need. Far less expensive an operation, because there are fewer big, expensive, permanent buildings involved. Chickens are moved from field to field in light, wheeled structures that can be pulled by a tractor, and the cows can walk themselves. The cows are happy, the chickens are happy, the farmer is happy, and to top if off, this system of farming improves soil year to year, and it sequesters carbon! For more on this, read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, see Food Inc. or Fresh. Furthermore, this system of farming raises an enormous amount of food – as much or more than a factory farm.

We need to honour the food that nourishes us, and say thank you to the animals and plants that were sacrificed for our meal. This can be as much a spiritual practice as the spirituality that people seek by becoming vegetarian. We CAN choose what food we eat carefully, making sure the animals we eat lived a good life and only had one bad day rather than a lifetime of bad days. We CAN choose to shop from farmers who grow food in a sustainable way, and replenish the earth rather than deplete it by only choosing pastured animals along with organic, biodynamic or permiculture farming methods. In this way, even if we do choose to include animal foods in our diet, we can feel good about giving our bodies, our spirit, our conscience, and our planet what it needs to be healthy.

If you want to share this article, scroll to the very bottom and click the “share” icon to post on Facebook, Twitter etc. If you want to subscribe or search for other posts by title or by topic, go to

Related tips:
Conventional vs. Organic vs Pasture-fed meats, poultry, eggs and dairy
Industrial agriculture – what’s the real cost of cheap food?
The problem with organic food
Improving nutrition by avoiding the grocery store
In defense of real meat

Eissen, Jill Have Your Meat and Eat It Too! Part 1 – 3 CBC Ideas Podcast, aired Aug 18, 25, Sept. 1, 2010.

Pollan, Michael The Omnivore’s Dilemma The Penguin Press, New York, 2006

Kenner, Robert Food Inc. Magnolia Home Entertainment, 2009.

Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration Price Pottenger Foundation, La Mesa CA, 1939.

Taubes, Gary Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health (Vintage) Alfred A Knopf, New York, 2007.

Euromed It’s a Jungle Out There! How Plants Communicate to Get Their Needs Met

Chek, Paul Vegetarianism, inside out


Copyright 2010 Vreni Gurd

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How genetically-engineered trees can harm our health


I had no idea that GMO trees existed until about a month ago, and my first reaction was – what's the big deal? I forgot about the fruit from trees, so I didn't immediately understand the dangers they pose. GMO trees are currently being grown for fruit, pulp and paper in 100 to 150 test plots around the US today, especially in the south. They are also grown in other hot countries around the world. This article is based on the short documentary narrated by Dr. David Suzuki called “A Silent Forest”.

Unlike carefully breeding animals or plants of the same species to bring out specific desirable traits through many generations (vertical inheritance), genetic modification involves inserting the DNA of one species into another completely unrelated species to create something that could never happen through cross-pollination or hybridization (horizontal inheritance).

The biotechnologists have no real control over where the genes of one species are going to land within the genome of the other species, and they have absolutely no idea of what the expression of that gene will be in the context of its new, unrelated genome. And they also have no idea what the unintended consequences might be of the new creation on the environment, and on the insects, plants and animals that might interact with it.

The trees are being modified in a number of different ways. One modification is to insert the genes of a bacteria called bacillus thuringiensus (Bt) into the DNA of the tree in order to make it pest resistant. Bt toxin is expressed in every cell within the tree, including the root, trunk, leaf and flower from the time it sprouts and throughout the plant’s entire life. The idea is that by making the tree toxic to insects, one would not need to use chemical insecticides.

However, the insects that are not killed by the Bt toxin breed with each other so with each insect generation they are becoming more resistant to the toxin. Therefore, stronger or more powerful chemicals are required in order to control these “super insects” than had the trees not been genetically modified in the first place. The other unintended consequence is that non-targeted insects are also killed off, like ladybugs and monarch butterflies, which have dropped 75 percent since the introduction of Bt corn.

Trees live for a very long time, and will be putting out this toxin and killing insects their entire life cycle. Will Bt toxin concentrate in the tissues of animals that eat the insects and the animals that eat those animals in the same way DDT did? We don’t know. Insects are vital for pollination of plants, for predation and as food for other species, so eliminating insects will have a devastating effect on life that relies on them. We are already concerned about the diminishing bee population so is it really a good idea to eliminate other insects that pollinate plants? What animal species will die out once the insects are gone? What other animals higher up the food chain will be threatened or become extinct?

Apparently it is already known that Bt toxin leaches into the soil altering the microbial community, and contaminating soil as well as ground and surface water far away from where the Bt trees and corn were originally grown. How many community water supplies near fields of GMO corn have been contaminated with Bt toxin?

There is more and more evidence that Bt crops like corn can cause allergies and respiratory problems in humans. Tree pollen can travel for hundreds of miles, so the health impacts for humans of Bt trees might be significant. Cornell University is growing GMO apple trees, and there is a real risk of allergic reaction in those that unknowingly eat them, as GMO foods are still unlabelled.

Hawaii is dealing with the problem of spot fungus on the GMO papayas they are growing, and farmers have found that instead of saving themselves money by planting the GMO variety, they are spending much more in toxic fungicides which they need to spray on their crops every 10 days. Needless to say, spraying so frequently must be taking its toll on the health of the farmers as well.

There is evidence of cancer in animals fed GMO food, and when one considers that GMO corn has the bt toxin in each cell of the plant, one must wonder what the cumulative effect of our consuming that toxin might be. This is why I have repeatedly suggested that if we are going to eat corn or corn-containing products, probably better to choose organic to avoid the unlabelled GMO varieties.

Another genetic modification that is being used in trees is to make them resistant to Round Up, the herbicide containing glyphosate that is manufactured by Monsanto. This means that any plant that contains this gene won’t be killed by the herbicide. This modification is also widely used in canola crops all over North America. Since the crop won’t be affected, it is known that farmers that plant Round-Up Ready crops spray their crops with three times the amount of herbicide than those that use the GM variety.

Glyphosate is extremely harmful to the soil, earthworms, birds and animals that come in contact with it, and it runs into waterways impacting larger animals that drink from them. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, commercial agricultural chemicals that are sprayed onto crops and run off into streams and rivers are the largest polluters of waterways.

Farmers that are regularly exposed to glyphosate have higher incidence of miscarriage, pre-mature births, and non-hodgkins lymphoma. Regularly spraying forests with glyphosate would be devastating to the forest ecosystem, killing off all underbrush and endangering the animals that use that underbrush as habitat.

Another problem is that the pollen from trees can travel for hundreds of miles, contaminating native forests with the various GMO variants. Many organic papaya farmers in Hawaii have lost their certification due to contamination from the GMO papaya crops due to wind-carried pollen. It would not take long for single US GMO-tree plantation to contaminate all the forests in North America.

So, biotechnology’s solution is to implant a sterility gene into the tree genome so that it can’t reproduce. They have been talking about using the sterility gene in food crops too. If there is any problem with this terminator technology, there is the possibility of the sterility gene being spread to native species potentially killing forests. Even Monsanto says they can’t guarantee 100 percent sterility or that the technology will work all the time.

So, a tree plantation with these GMO traits would have no insects, would have no undergrowth and would be filled with toxic herbicide chemicals. 95 percent of the trees would be sterile, so would have no pollen, seeds, fruit or other food for animals or birds to eat, so none would be living there. The 5 percent of trees that are not sterile would be contaminating the neighbouring native forests with the implanted genes, creating larger areas without life.

Because most of the trees would be sterile, their energy would be directed to growth rather than reproduction, resulting in overuse of ground water, drying out the land creating desert. This would impact the viability of other crops as well as reduce the water available for livestock, potentially increasing hunger in indigenous populations. Self-sustaining communities would be forced to leave the land due to the drying up of soil caused by neighbouring GMO tree plantations.

And of course there is the legal issue. So far, the courts have ruled that life can be owned and treated as a commodity. According to legal precedents, the contaminated trees would become the property of Monsanto no matter whose land they are on. Farmers have been charged and prosecuted by Monsanto for GMO plants found on their property even though the seeds got there via the wind, birds or flooding.

Furthermore, even if only a small percentage of a crop is contaminated, the courts have ruled that the entire crop then belongs to the biotech company. So farmers can lose their rights to their property overnight through no fault of their own should Monsanto decide to enforce its patent rights. In the case of trees, Monsanto would gain control of private as well as government land. So what might that mean for national parks? Is this what we want?

In summary, GMO trees are a threat to all animal and plant life in the forests of the world, including the forests themselves as they use up the available water. Glyphosate and Bt toxin threaten insect, plant, animal and human health and we will be unable to stop these toxins from contaminating other plants, soils and the ground water. Hopefully it is not already too late to put the genie back in the bottle, but if we value life on this planet we need to try.

As consumers, we can use our purchasing power to choose wood and paper products that are not made from GMO trees. Kinko’s Copies use non-GMO paper, so support them, and tell the big companies like Home Depot to switch to non-GMO sources of wood and paper products if they want your business. Ultimately, if there is no market for the GMO products, the biotech companies will be forced to stop producing the GMO seeds. Please watch the 45 minute documentary entitled “The Silent Forest” for a more complete understanding of this issue.

If you want to share this article, scroll to the very bottom and click the “share” icon to post on Facebook, Twitter etc. If you want to subscribe or search for other posts by title or by topic, go to

Related tips:
GMO – crossing the species barrier
Deceptive food labeling

David Suzuki The Silent Forest

Copyright 2010 Vreni Gurd

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Genetically-modified salmon on your dinner table soon?


It is possible that the FDA and Health Canada may be approving a GMO Atlantic salmon for human consumption in the near future.

Genetic modification came onto my radar again this past month due to news that the FDA is considering approval for the first time ever, of a genetically-modified flesh-food for human consumption – GMO Atlantic salmon. It is very easy to forget that GMO foods exist as they are unlabelled in North America, yet many of us are eating foods that contain GMO ingredients many times a day since they are in 70 to 75% of foods in the grocery store. Any non-organic foods that have ingredients made from corn, (high-fructose corn-syrup, corn starch, corn oil, pop corn etc.), soy (soy lecithin, soy oil, soy milk etc.) or canola are most certainly GMO. And of course, grain-fed cows are usually fed GMO corn – another reason to choose grass-fed!

The biotech company AquaBounty Technologies, that invented and is patenting “AquAdvantage Salmon", genetically engineered it to grow much more quickly and much larger than the typical Atlantic salmon by inserting the Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1) genes of a chinook salmon and the antifreeze genes of the pout fish (an eel) into its DNA.

AquaBounty, whose corporate headquarters are in Waltham Mass., side-stepped the FDA rules by growing the fish for US consumption in Canada and in Panama. In this way they are able to avoid the US environmental assessments, and the FDA is relying on private consultants hired by the company in order to determine environmental safety.

We can’t really know at this early stage if there is any risk to human health from eating these GMO salmon that have extra IGF-1 genes. But we do know that in the States, Bovine Growth Hormone fed to cattle means IGF-1 gets into the milk.(Bovine Growth Hormone is banned in Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan). We know that IGF-1 accelerates puberty, and we also know that girls are going through puberty at younger and younger ages these days. IGF-1 is also linked to breast, prostate and colon cancer. So, at what point should we start getting worried about the cumulative effects of IGF-1 in the various edible food-like substances (Michael Pollan's word) that are coming into the market?

The environmental risk may also be significant. Because these GMO salmon are so big, should they escape they would be very attractive to the wild Atlantic salmon. Although they are bred to be sterile, apparently about 1% are viable, and they would contaminate the wild stocks. Also the 99% that are sterile and mating with the wild salmon would mean that a lot of salmon fry don’t hatch potentially devastating the stocks. We know that escaped farmed Atlantic-salmon damaged wild Pacific-salmon stocks, and none of those salmon were GMO.

I am personally very uncomfortable with the idea of a company being allowed to patent a life-form, thus "owning" it for profit. Despite concerted efforts to prevent it, fish escapes are bound to happen. So, in a worst case scenario, AquaBounty would have the legal right go after fishers who catch escaped or hybridized GMO salmon in their nets. It isn't outside the realm of possibility that AquaBounty could eventually claim to own the entire Atlantic salmon fishery.

Sounds crazy? We only need to look to Monsanto, the biotech giant in the States, to see what happens when "life" becomes proprietary. Monsanto has forced its patent rights on farmers who had no intention of growing GMO crops, but were unlucky enough to have their crops contaminated by the GM seeds that the wind carried onto their fields. Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan farmer was sued by Monsanto for exactly that. He fought the case all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada, that ruled that Monsanto’s patent was valid. Chilling in my opinion, as a farmer has no control over the wind.

If this salmon gets FDA and Health Canada approval it is unlikely that it will be labelled GMO, as the FDA and the biotech companies realize that most people won’t purchase it if they know it is genetically modified. Best to keep the consumer in the dark to ensure sales. So as consumers, we will have another reason to only purchase wild salmon, although even they might be contaminated if there were an escape.

US Senator, Mark Begich, along with 10 other senators are trying to stop the FDA from approving GMO salmon for human consumption. If you are a US or Canadian citizen and you want this stopped, perhaps talk to your government representative.

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Schmidt, Sarah Developer of genetically engineered salmon eyes Canadian regulators The Gazette, Montreal, August 27, 2010

Heavey, Susan FDA panel to consider GMO salmon: The first genetically modified animal could move one step closer to the U.S… Scientific American, Sept. 20, 2010

Margulis, C AquaBounty GMO Salmon paid for by Canadian Taxpayers Society for a GE Free BC, Sept. 9, 2010

Copyright 2010 Vreni Gurd

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Should we eat salmon at all? Part 2


Climate change has altered the migratory pattern of the sockeye salmon, which due to lengthened daylight exposure pushes their reproductive cycle, forcing them back to spawn too early while the water is still too warm.

I went to a very interesting lecture a few weeks ago about the decline of the Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks, presented by Dr. Glenn Crossin from the University of British Columbia. His studies of the Fraser River sockeye implicate climate change as one of the most important factors in their almost complete collapse this year. Ten million salmon that were expected to return to the Fraser River, simply did not show up at all. This disastrous collapse has caused the Canadian Government to launch a public inquiry in the hopes that we will not have a repeat of the cod fishery collapse of the early '90soff the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Fraser River does not have fish farms, so for this stock at least, they are not to blame for the decline. It is known that the salmon smolts made it safely out to the ocean. Dr. Crossin’s research points to climate change being a key factor, as the warmer the water, the harder it is for the fish to survive. River water below 18C is tolerable to sockeye, but as the water warms beyond that mortality rates increase. However, river water temperatures were not the problem for the 10 million fish that never even made it back into the river system at all. Something affected the salmon during the time they were in the ocean.

It is known that the warmer ocean waters are forcing the salmon further north where the water is cooler and more habitable to them. Dr. Crossin's research suggests that this new more northern migration is affecting the hormone systems of the fish. The further north one goes during the summer months, the longer the daytime light. Near Prince Rupert at the summer solstice, the sun sets at around 11pm. Further north is the land of the midnight sun. As I have suggested in multiple posts previously, the light/dark cycle is a strong hormone regulator in living organisms including humans, and when a light/dark cycle is altered there will be hormonal consequences. For salmon, all that extra daylight causes an increase in testosterone levels, which makes them want to return to the rivers to spawn. The longer the length of daytime light, the higher the testosterone levels, the more urgent the drive to spawn.

So, the sockeye are starting their migration south back to the spawning rivers early, while the waters are still warmer. In 2006, Dr. Crossin tagged 195 sockeye salmon with accoustic transmitters in the north off the west coast of the Queen Charlottes in order to follow their journey back south. But in July the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) opened a salmon fishery at the north end of Vancouver Island, and only 12 (6%) of his 195 tagged fish made it back to the Strait of Georgia. It is probably a  stretch to say that that fishery caught 94% of all the returning fish at that time, but clearly that fishery had a big impact.

Before 1995, the late-run sockeye would return to the Straight of Georgia (Salish Sea) in August like clockwork and spend about a month to 6 weeks there before heading into the river systems in late September to mid October when the water was cooler. But since 1995, between 60 and 90% are not waiting in the Straight, and instead are heading directly into the rivers in August while the water is at its hottest, probably because of their high testosterone levels and their accelerated drive to spawn. High water temperatures are resulting in high fish mortality before they can reach the spawning grounds. It is predicted that if nothing is done to slow down climate change, summer river temperatures will hit 25C soon, which will be lethal to all Sockeye salmon in the river at the time.

So, between the warmer ocean waters forcing the salmon to migrate further north impacting their hormonal system and making them return to spawn earlier in the year, mixed with an ill-timed fishery and/or
overfishing and who knows what else, the result was very few salmon making it back to the Fraser estuary this year. Depending upon the salmon stock we are talking about, climate change, over-fishing, predation, the sea lice problem, the damming of rivers for hydro-electric power, pollution, chemicals and medical drug residues from sewage finding its way into the rivers, and the break-outs of farmed Atlantic salmon, wild Pacific salmon have a lot to contend with if they are going to survive.

Is ocean fishing as sustainable as it is claimed to be? I'm not so sure, because one has no idea what salmon stock is affected by catching a salmon in the ocean. If that salmon is destined for a healthy Alaskan river, perhaps there is little or no harm, but if that salmon is destined for the Fraser, harm is clearly done even if it is caught in the open ocean north of Vancouver Island.

So I ask again. Should we be eating salmon at all? I don't think we should be eating any sockeye. These fish need all the breaks they can get right now, as it is looking like climate change is forcing them onto the endangered list without any help from humans fishing them. Chinook and Coho numbers are also declining markedly, perhaps for the same reasons. Pink salmon seem to be the only bright spot, so if we want a salmon dinner, pink may be the only sustainable type of salmon to eat.

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Crossin Glenn et al. Physiological correlates of migration timing and fate in adult sockeye salmon homing to the Fraser River Science Forum Presentations June 18, 2009

Global Warming Heats Up Urgency Of Salmon Recovery Efforts Science Daily April 2008.

Protect Pacific salmon from global warming, Fisheries Council report advises federal and provincial governments Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council

M. Nelitz, K et al. Helping Pacific Salmon Survive the Impact of Climate Change on Freshwater Habitats Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council 10/04/2007

Crossin et al. Exposure to high temperatures influences the behaviour, physiology and survival of sockeye salmon during spawning migration Can J. of Zoo, Vol 86 p. 127-140, 2008

Steven J. Cooke et al. Physiological correlates of coastal arrival and river entry timing in late summer Fraser River sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) Behavioral Ecology March 6, 2008.


Jeffery L. Young et al. Physiological and energetic correlates of en route mortality for abnormally early migrating adult sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) in the Thompson River, British Columbia Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. Vol. 63, 2006 p. 1067-1077.

Steven J. Cooke et al. Physiology of individual late-run Fraser River sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) sampled inthe ocean correlates with fate during spawning migration Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. Vol. 63, 2006 p. 1469-1480.

 2006 by the Ecological Society of America

Glenn T. Crossin et al. Behaviour and physiology of sockeye salmon homing through coastal waters to a natal river Mar Biol
DOI 10.1007/s00227-007-0741-x

Copyright 2009 Vreni Gurd

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Should we eat salmon at all?


We know salmon is one of the healthiest fish out there – chock full of omega 3 fatty acids, but if we keep eating them now, will there be any left for our kids to eat when they grow up?

I just got back from the farmer's market, one of my favourite weekend activities. I love the variety of produce that one simply can't find in the grocery store – last week after my farmer's market excursion, I made a "purple meal" with purple potatoes, purple beets, purple kale, purple cabbage and purple tomatoes along with some beef tenderloin. I didn't find the purple carrots or purple broccoli last week, but if I had found them, they would have been part of the meal too. What fun! And the food is so fresh and tasty compared to the grocery store produce which is picked weeks early for shipping and then frequently ripened with chemicals when the time is right.

Well today, my last purchase was two wild coho salmon fillets, caught in the deep ocean off the coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands in northern British Columbia. I haven’t bought salmon in a while, because I find myself feeling guilty every time I think about it. All over the news have been reports about how the sockeye salmon run this year was expected to be fantastic, but very few salmon came back to spawn. None of the salmon runs are as good as they used to be, and year after year the trend seems to be worse and worse. I asked the people at the booth at the market today if we should really be buying salmon at all. She told me that that was a difficult question to answer – she said that their fish is caught in a sustainable way, no where near the mouths of rivers, but it was obvious that she was very worried about the future of this fabulous fish, and was wrestling with the same question. The cod fishery collapsed on the east coast of Canada 17 years ago and still has not recovered. If we don’t stop eating salmon now, can we expect the same thing on the west coast? In the States last year, the West Coast Salmon Fishery was considered a failure and labelled a Federal disaster. In Canada, the sockeye fishery is closed completely this year due to the near total collapse on the Fraser River, the most important salmon estuary in BC. Nine to 11 million fish that were expected to return this year did not show up.

One might make the argument that this is a reason to eat farmed salmon rather than wild, but the problem with that theory is that the farmed salmon industry is heavily implicated in the decline of the wild salmon stocks, as the fish farms are on the rivers where the wild salmon spawn, and the wild salmon smolts (baby fish) as they swim by the fish farms on their way to the ocean get covered in sea lice, which weakens and kills them. The government still has not forced the farmed salmon industry to use closed containers on land, to prevent the diseased fish from contaminating the wild salmon. I think that what we choose to purchase is a political act. We are either choosing to sustain the planet and its living organisms or we are not, and the fastest way to change methods of food production is to refuse to purchase food that comes from unsustainable, planet damaging, unhealthy practises. Consumers are usually way ahead of governments, and it is up to consumers to force change at the check-out stand. So, please don't eat farmed salmon!

Salmon need cold water to survive, and the ocean and rivers are warming, which is probably also playing a big roll in the declining stocks. And of course, chemical spills into important salmon rivers, such as what happened to the Cheakamus River in 2005 killing every living thing, doesn’t help. The experts say it will take more than 50 years for the fish to come back in the same numbers as before the spill. And of course, no fish means no eagles and other predators that rely on the salmon for food too, and so on up the food chain we go.

So, what do you think? Did I make the right decision this morning when I bought my salmon? I’m not too sure, but I will try not to feel guilty about my decision as I can't change it now. Instead, I do feel grateful that I can enjoy it at this time, and I will revere it as the precious item it is. I may not be eating salmon for a while, and if on occasion I do decide to treat myself, I'll make sure I buy it from someone like the person at the market today, who only catches the fish out in the deep ocean waters. Hopefully between closing fisheries, moving to closed-container fish farming, restoring the habitat in salmon streams, and doing what we can to slow global warming, one day the salmon will come back in abundance, and I'll feel good about enjoying salmon regularly again.

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Martin Krkosek et al. Declining Wild Salmon Populations in Relation to Parasites from Farm Salmon Science 14 December 2007:
Vol. 318. no. 5857, pp. 1772 – 1775

B.M Connors et al. Sea lice escape predation on their host Biology Letters 23 October 2008 vol. 4 no. 5 455-457

Martin Krkošek et al. Sea lice and salmon population dynamics: effects of exposure time for migratory fish Proc. R. Soc. B 7 August 2009 vol. 276 no. 1668 2819-2828

Mark J. Costello How sea lice from salmon farms may cause wild salmonid declines in Europe and North America and be a threat to fishes elsewhere July 8, 2009, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.0771

Jeff Nagel Demise of Fraser sockeye salmon a puzzle Aug. 14, 2009.

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Watershed Watch Wild Salmon in Trouble Video: The Link Between Farmed Salmon, Sea Lice and Wild Salmon

Watershed Watch Sea Lice and Salmon – Elevating the dialogue on the farmed-wild salmon story

Global Warming Heats Up Urgency Of Salmon Recovery Efforts Science Daily April 2008.

Protect Pacific salmon from global warming, Fisheries Council report advises federal and provincial governments Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council

M. Nelitz, K et al. Helping Pacific Salmon Survive the Impact of Climate Change on Freshwater Habitats Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council 10/04/2007

Copyright 2009 Vreni Gurd

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Another reason not to drink bottled water


Did you know that the oil it takes to make, ship and refrigerate that bottle of water, would fill that bottle a quarter of the way?

When one considers that the water standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency for tap water are higher than the water standards set by the FDA for bottled water, and one realizes that it costs 10,000 times more to produce a bottle of water ($2.50 a liter or $10 a gallon – much more expensive than gasoline) than to simply turn on the tap, we must ask ourselves why we are wasting our resources and our money on bottled water.

I think originally bottled water became popular because it was perceived to be healthier than tap water, but is that really true? About 40% of the bottled waters on the market ARE tap water (including Dasani and Aquafina) with some minerals taken out, or added in – whatever the manufacturer believes will sell. Some waters, like Evian or Fuji are spring waters, higher in minerals and therefore healthier than some of the softer municipal water supplies, but is the environmental cost worth the price considering how easy it is to add back minerals into filtered tap water?

The PET plastic that the water is sold in is made from crude oil. In 2004, the amount of oil needed to satisfy the demands of Americans for bottled water was in the neighbourhood of 17 million barrels, enough to fuel over a million cars for a year. Then add to that the oil that is needed to ship the water bottles to market. Apparently nearly a quarter of the bottles of water are shipped cross international boundaries to reach store shelves – that is a lot of oil used in transportation. Making plastic bottles also wastes crazy amounts of water. It takes 6.74 times the amount of water contained within the bottle to make it, which is a staggering amount of water. Water is becoming more and more scarce worldwide, so why are we wasting it making bottles? And finally, plastic bottles need to be disposed of, and only 1 in 6 bottles is recycled, while all others are littered on land or in waterways, or find their way to landfill sites. It takes over 1000 years to biodegrade plastic, so the result is mountains and mountains of completely unnecessary garbage; furthermore, I’m not sure I want that plastic leaching into water tables etc.

Tap water is very economical, arriving at our taps through energy-efficient infrastructure, and due to the high water standards required by government bodies, is usually quite safe. One can easily buy a tap filter to filter out chlorine or other contaminants one may be concerned about. Filters that filter out fluoride may be more challenging to obtain, but they are certainly available. Most other contaminants are already removed by municipalities. If one’s filtering system removes all minerals (reverse osmosis) making the water too soft, one can add trace minerals back to tap water by adding a pinch of pasculite clay or unrefined, air dried Celtic or Himalayan sea salt. (NOT the white, dry, processed salt which has no minerals but sodium!)

So rather than buying bottled water, get a good re-usable stainless steel water bottle, filter your tap water, and take your water with you. There are even re-usable water bottles that come with a filter in them, so if you need to refill while out, anyone’s tap water will do. If you live in the States and want to check where your municipal water comes from, find out what’s in it so you know what if anything you need to filter out, click here. For Canada or elsewhere, try googling your home town and "water quality" and see what comes up. I got this link for Vancouver, for example.

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Copyright 2009 Vreni Gurd

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Cell phones and children


Are cell phones safe enough to be used by children? Should governments warn parents about potential hazards even if the jury is still out?

Whether or not the radiation from cell phones is safe is an ongoing controversy that is dividing the scientific community. Much research suggests that cell phones are perfectly safe, and that we have nothing to be worried about, but some of the longer studies are beginning to tell a different story. The big concern is that the radiation emitted from cell phones may cause brain cancer on the side of the head that the cell phone is used. We may not know for sure whether or not this is true for many years to come, as there is a latency period from the beginning of exposure to the time cancer may develop, and that latency period is most likely greater than ten years.

The radiation the cell phones emit is between 1 and 3 Watts, in the microwave range, and that radiation DOES get absorbed by the head, or whatever body part is nearest the phone. Initially the concern was that this radiation heated the cells causing damage, but from the resources I’ve looked at, it looks like the body is able to dispel the heat quite easily.

However, the radiation emitted from the phone is pulsed, and apparently very similar to the electrical oscillations sent within the brain (alpha and delta brain waves). Our body is a very sensitive electrochemical system, so it seems reasonable that radio waves from external sources at similar frequencies to our internal frequencies may interfere with our bioelectrical systems, in much the same way that cell phones interfere with airplane controls and hospital equipment. So it is the similarity to the frequencies commonly used within the body, confusing the body which may be problematic. One of the frequencies used by cell phones seems to be similar to one that induces cell division in the body, perhaps explaining the links between cell-phone use and brain cancer.

Children have thinner skulls, and their brain tissue is less dense, which allows the radiation to penetrate much further into the brain, potentially increasing their risk. Dr. Devra Davis, a professor of epidemiology and the director of the Centre for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute suggests that phone radiation can penetrate more than half way through the brain of a 5 year old. Because children are still growing and their brains are still developing, genetic damage to cells in the brain may cause functional damage. The blood brain barrier may be compromised making the child more susceptible to toxins. A Spanish study showed that a two minute cell phone conversation altered electrical activity in the brain for up to an hour, compromising the ability to learn. Furthermore, if first exposure to cell phone radiation is while in childhood or as a teen, it is likely that that child or teen will be using the technology for many decades to come, increasing the potential risk even further.

Many countries, like Britain, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Israel, India and Russia are putting out warnings suggesting that children should either not use cell phones at all, or only very minimally, because they feel there is enough research suggesting that there may be a problem to warn the public of the potential danger. France is making it illegal for cell phone manufactures to market cell phones to kids under the age of 12. In Canada, that certainly is not the case – special cell phones specifically designed for kids are actively marketed to kids and their parents. Should this be happening at all, if other countries are putting out warnings?

Even though the City of Toronto's department of public health did put out an advisory in the summer of 2008 that children under 8 should only use cell phones for emergencies, and teens should limit calls to under 10 minutes, Health Canada does not feel there is any need to warn parents about the potential dangers to children, and I don't think US government agencies are putting out warnings either. Kind of reminds one of the smoking issue of yesteryear. So, as a parent would you prefer to be told of a potential problem so you can make up your own mind on how to deal with the issue, or do you trust that government agencies are doing enough to protect you and your children? I think transparency is important. I want to be in control of my health and the health of my family, and I want to know if something might be problematic, so I can do my research and make a choice. If my choice is taken away from me because I am not told, then I have no way of controlling my health. My philosophy has always been to apply the precautionary principle. It may take 30 years before we really know the truth about safety of cell phones, so in the mean time it makes sense to me to keep cell phones out of the hands of kids as long as possible, and if they have one, allow them to use it only for emergencies, text messaging, or with a headset (not bluetooth as that kind magnifies the radiation). These suggestions obviously apply to the rest of us too!

To check the the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) (the quantity of radiofrequency energy that is absorbed by your body) of your cell phone, click here.

For more on the topic of cell phones and kids, watch this CBC production of

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Walker, H.Developing EMF Policy on Children: Developing UK government policy in the light of scientific uncertaintyDepartment of Health

Divan HA et al. Prenatal and postnatal exposure to cell phone use and behavioral problems in children. Epidemiology. 2008 Jul;19(4):523-9.

Leitgeb N. Mobile phones: are children at higher risk? Wien Med Wochenschr. 2008;158(1-2):36-41.

Krause CM et al. Mobile phone effects on children’s event-related oscillatory EEG during an auditory memory task. Int J Radiat Biol. 2006 Jun;82(6):443-50.

Schüz J. Mobile phone use and exposures in children. Bioelectromagnetics. 2005;Suppl 7:S45-50.

Kheifets L et al. The sensitivity of children to electromagnetic fields. Pediatrics. 2005 Aug;116(2):e303-13.

Maier R et al. Effects of pulsed electromagnetic fields on cognitive processes – a pilot study on pulsed field interference with cognitive regeneration.Acta Neurol Scand. 2004 Jul;110(1):46-52.

Hardell L et al. Long-term use of cellular phones and brain tumours: increased risk associated with use for > or =10 years. Occup Environ Med. 2007 Sep;64(9):626-32. Epub 2007 Apr 4.

Kan P et al. Cellular phone use and brain tumor: a meta-analysis. J Neurooncol. 2008 Jan;86(1):71-8. Epub 2007 Jul 10.

Hours M et al. Cell Phones and Risk of brain and acoustic nerve tumours: the French INTERPHONE case-control study Rev Epidemiol Sante Publique. 2007 Oct;55(5):321-32. Epub 2007 Sep 11.

Mild KH et al. Pooled analysis of two Swedish case-control studies on the use of mobile and cordless telephones and the risk of brain tumours diagnosed during 1997-2003. Int J Occup Saf Ergon. 2007;13(1):63-71.

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Huber, Reto et al. Exposure to Pulsed High-Frequency Electromagnetic Field During Waking Affects Human Sleep EEG NeuroReport 11 (2000): 3321-3325.

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Borbely AA et al. Pulsed high-frequency electromagnetic field affects human sleep and sleep electroencephalogram. Neurosci Lett 1999; 275: 207-10.

Copyright 2009 Vreni Gurd

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Improving nutrition by avoiding the grocery store


It may seem surprising that the grocery store is not the place to go to find the healthiest food. Thankfully there are other options.

The last couple of weeks we've explored two branches of the industrial food chain – conventional farming and big organic – and highlighted some of the problems with each, according to the research done by Michael Pollan, and delineated in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma. Further to the problem of grocery store food, this morning I was reading about how Tyson Foods is suing the USDA in order to be allowed to use the label "Raised without antibiotics that impact antibiotic resistance in humans" in its chickens, even though they inject the antibiotic, gentamicin, into the eggs. They are fighting to be allowed to deceive us with their label – to make us believe that their chicken is antibiotic-free. Over the last few years I have pointed out several deceptive practices that food companies use to make food found on grocery-store shelves appear healthier than it actually is, including:

So, staying away from grocery stores that sell us these foods can do a lot to improve our health. And even Industrial Organic, although far better than conventional, can be problematic because they are frequently still using industrial methods such as feeding cattle organic grain which makes the cattle sick. One of the reasons industrial farming methods came to pass in the first place (in addition to the obvious profitability), was the worry about being able to actually feed the growing world population. There is another way.

In his book, Michael Pollan introduces the reader to an entirely new kind of farming – or perhaps I should say "the old way" of mixed farming with a twist, which is highly productive, making it possible to feed large numbers of people with highly nutritious food from the land AND actually improve the quality of the soil the longer the land is farmed this way. No more compromising nutrition to put out more food, no more torturing of animals in the name of feeding humankind, no more pesticide run-off into the waterways damaging our drinking water or the habitat the fish we eat live in, no more relying on oil to run our whole agricultural system. This is a completely sustainable system that follows the laws of nature, and actually increases the health of the animals and plants that are a part of it, and it encourages plant diversity, the opposite of what mono-farming does. I think it's brilliant, and would encourage all farmers to consider it!

Michael Pollan introduces us to a permaculture farmer, Joe Salatin, who runs Polyface farm in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. On 100 acres of grass, using low technology methods, Mr. Salatin produces per season 30,000 eggs, 10,000 broilers, 800 stewing hens, 25,000 pounds of beef, 250 hogs, 1000 turkeys, and 500 rabbits – an enormous amount of food produced in a way that improves the soil each year. Joe sees himself as primarily a grass farmer, because it can be argued that all flesh is grass. (I think all flesh is soil, actually.) The key to how his farm works, is keeping the grass at its healthiest. His only technology is a movable electric fence, which he uses to fence off a portion of his pasture in early evening, into which he introduces his cattle, which then have a day to graze that area. The next evening, he fences off another portion of pasture, into which the cattle move. If grass is over-grazed it cannot survive, and one winds up with a mud-pile. So, by moving the cattle daily, he not only prevents the grass from dying, but actually encourages it to form a stronger plant, much like how pruning a bush does. He is converting grass and sunshine into meat and dairy – using solar energy rather than fossil fuels.

Exactly three days later, he introduces the chickens into the same area that the cows were. The chickens go straight for the cow paddies, which are now full of plump maggots that are about to hatch into flies. Introducing the chickens at that time gives the chicken their favourite food, spreads the cow manure around via chicken feet, prevents a fly problem, and also further nourishes the grass with chicken droppings. The cows and chickens both get to eat their favourite and most healthy food, and they get to do what they do best – be cows and chickens, living their life to the fullest. And the grass, cut down by the cows, sheds some of its root system, which is turned into soil by the earthworms, soil bacteria and fungi, and fertilized by the animal waste, grows again very quickly, making it possible to repeat the process in about 5 weeks. And the food that comes from this low tech method of farming is brimming with nutrition, unlike the food that comes from a factory farm. What makes this farm so productive is the symbiotic relationship between the animals and the grass, resulting in improved soil fertility and improved plant diversity year after year. What a boon to countries struggling to feed themselves, like those in Africa, for example!

Joe Salatin refuses to sell his food via the industrial food chain, even to a store such as Whole Foods. He is trying to build local economies where "bar-codes are unnecessary". His customers come to his farm to buy eggs and chickens, and he sells at local farmers' markets, through metropolitan buying clubs where groups of families put in a large order for food twice a month, through CSAs or "Community Supported Agriculture", where customers subscribe to the farm and get a box of produce a week all summer, and to chefs in the neighbouring towns, who love the quality and flavour of his food. His customers are those that want to know exactly where their food is coming from, how it is grown or raised, and demand highly nutritious, flavourful food. His customers relearn that all food is seasonal – that beef, lamb and pork are fall/winter foods, and that chicken is a summer food. These people have opted out of the industrial food chain in order to better nourish their families and to support a style of agriculture that gives more back to the planet than it takes away.

I agree with Michael Pollan, who says that what we choose to eat is a political act. What we decide to put in our mouths either feeds a system that results in the degradation of the planet and our health, or one that improves it.The industrial food chain relies on the false idea that in order for humankind to win, nature must lose. It also relies on the ignorance of its customers with respect to its practises, and sells based on price alone. They want their customers to believe that an egg is an egg, or an apple is an apple – that the growing method has no impact on its nutrition. We know that this is untrue. What the animals we consume are fed, alters the composition of their fats. A strong argument can be made that it is this fat-ratio alteration that is behind a lot of the sickness we suffer today. The nutrients or lack thereof in the soil greatly impacts the nutrition in the plants we eat. By opting out of the industrial food chain as much as possible and growing some of our own food, purchasing "bar-code-free food" by supporting smaller, local farmers at farmers' markets or through weekly local organic food-box programs, we can nourish our families and our local economies. This does require some work to source out food, and also to spend time cooking, but becoming a part of the local "slow food" movement is well worth the effort.

Feel free to watch Michael Pollan discuss these ideas in this 17 minute video on Youtube, or read Michael Pollan's fantastic book – it is well worth it.

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Pollan, Michael The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals Penguin Press, New York, 2006.

Eisen, Michael Michael Pollan Interview The Progressive Nov. 2008.

Gutierrez, David Tyson Foods Injects Chickens with Antibiotics Before They Hatch to Claim "Raised without Antibiotics" Natural News.Com Nov. 9, 2008.

Howden, Daniel Organic farming 'could feed Africa' – Traditional practices increase yield by 128 per cent in east Africa, says UN The Independent Oct. 22, 2008.

Lowitt, Kristen A Comparative Case Study of Nova Scotia Farmers’ Markets: Exploring Connections Among People, Places and Food Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada Sept. 2008.

Henderson, Paul Raw deal. . .or are they just milking the system? Chilliwack Times Nov. 4, 2008.

Copyright 2008 Vreni Gurd

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