Archive for the ‘Philosophical musings’ Category

Glyphosate and Prop 65

The latest story in the glyphosate saga is that it will now be put on California’s “Prop 65 List”. What is this Prop 65 list? It is a list of all chemicals the public may be exposed to in California that may cause cancer or birth defects. This list was born from the ballot initiative passed in 1986 called “The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Substances Act”. The section of the act that cause the list to be made was the part that prohibited business from knowingly exposing the public to toxic substances without giving clear and reasonable warning. Products are required to carry a warning and business are required to post signs clearly stating the warning that substances known to cause cancer or birth defects are present. Any chemical that has a 1 in 100,000 chance of causing cancer over a 70-year period or birth defects or other reproductive harm in two ways are required to be listed. Signs are everywhere in California and most people don’t even notice them. Any place that sells coffee has a sign as there are chemicals in coffee that are listed. One of my favorite signs is this one below. Clearly they are not much of a concern to most people.


California does not do any of its own research to determine if chemicals meet this criteria so they have a system of reviewing research done by other organizations to figure out what chemicals should be listed. There are four ways a chemical can be listed and those can be found at California’s OEHHA site. The criteria that put glyphosate on the list is the first one, “At a minimum, the list must contain chemicals identified by reference in Labor Code section 6382(b)(1) or (d).  Labor Code section 6382(b)(1) incorporates chemicals identified by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as causing cancer in humans or laboratory animals.” Because the IARC listed glyphosate as a “class 2A carcinogen” California was compelled by regulation to put glyphosate on the Prop 65 list. Monsanto sued the State of California mainly on the merits of the scientific evidence, or lack thereof, that glyphosate was a carcinogen, but since the Prop 65 regulation doesn’t address the merits of the research, just that it is on a qualified list, Monsanto lost that battle. If it is on the IARC list, it is on the Prop 65 list.

But did Monsanto have cause to doubt the IARC listing? There is certainly plenty of suspicion on the process the IARC went through on making their determination. Faulty science reviews and cherry picking which data to include along with facts about members on the review team being tied to anti-GMO activist groups.  David Zaruk, an EU science communication specialist has written extensively on this subject and even was a victim of censorship from some EU outlets because of what he uncovered about what the IARC was doing. You can find a full review of his writings on this issue on his site the Risk Monger. I’ll give a summary below.

There are many more scientific bodies that do not agree with the IARC findings of glyphosate being carcinogenic. Three other WHO agencies, The International Programme on Chemical Safety, The WHO Core Assessment Group and WHO Guidelines for Drinking Water Safety all disagree with the IARC on this issue (there was also the mysteriously disappearing EPA review that was posted and then pulled that also disagreed with the IARC findings. No one seem to know what happened to that report). Two other EU agencies that European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the German Institute for Risk Assessment (the BfR – responsible for managing the EU’s glyphosate risk assessment) have also come to the opposite view on glyphosate from the IARC. These two agencies do risk assessments. They looked at all the data available, asked for more data to fill data gaps, and then concluded that the herbicide could be safely managed and did not pose a risk to human health.

On the other side, IARC doesn’t do risk management but merely decides whether a substance can be considered as a carcinogen. But in their process on reviewing glyphosate they already had the conclusion they wanted decided upon before they started the review process. Thus they only used data and studies that fit the narrative they wanted to produce. Some of the studies they used were even discredited by scientific peer review as being flawed and providing very poor conclusions. Thus they came to the conclusion that glyphosate was a hazard and needed to be banned. “Risk management is the reduction of exposures to known hazards. The scientific community (including EFSA and the BfR) has largely determined that glyphosate is a minimal hazard (low toxicity) whose exposure can be easily managed so that we (farmers and consumers) can enjoy the benefits of better agricultural yields. IARC feels there is a hazard and it needs to be restricted”, concludes David Zaruk in his summary of the situation.

So where does this leave glyphosate and California’s Prop 65 list? Well, for now it stays on the list. If the pressure on the IARC to remove glyphosate from their list prevails and they pull it from their list California can decide to take it off the Prop 65 list. How will being on the Prop 65 list affect the products that contain glyphosate? Well if the traffic at Disneyland and Starbucks is any indication of the effects of something being on the Prop 65 list, I’d say sales of Roundup won’t be affected too much. But having it on the list could be a focus point for activist group looking for reasons to ban its use. California seems to be on a track for limiting pesticide use based on hazard alone. Managing risk seems to have gone out the window as more regulation is based on fear instead of a reasoned, scientific based foundation. When the country as a whole wants to get back to relying on science to make policy and regulation maybe the tides will turn.


Farming and climate change

As a plant doctor I can see that the effects of a warming climate in California are affecting our crops in many ways. Decreasing water supplies force many farmers to stretch irrigations further apart and use less water. This water stress not only hurts the current crop but in many permanent crops, will impact the crop into the seasons to come. Pests are emerging earlier and some are having extra hatches later in the year because the temperatures start higher and remain higher throughout the season. That means the potential for increase in pesticide use and less crop yields due to pest issues.  Warmer weather also impacts disease cycles as many fungal and bacterial disease like warmer temperatures.  Warmer weather means tree fruit and nuts are not getting the “chill hours” they need to bloom and set fruit properly. This is all impacting the productivity of our agriculture industry.

The farming industry has yet to acknowledge the truth about climate change and how it is affecting their industry. Scientists have studied climate change and over 90% have determined that it is our carbon-based industries that are causing the rapid change in our climate. Science is showing that the probability of long mega droughts will be higher as climate change continues. The loss of farm income jobs and the degradation of our underground water supply should be concern enough for farmers and the agriculture industry to start taking a more aggressive approach towards legislation to mitigate the problems of carbon products in our society.

The agriculture industry prides itself in using science especially when it comes to regulations and legislation that affects their industry. But on the question of climate change many in the industry refuse to believe the clear science that shows it is our use of petroleum products that is causing the increase of carbon in our atmosphere and the changes we are seeing in the climate today. One cannot embrace science only when the outcome is favorable to their way of life and reject it when it is inconvenient. It seems that many farmers’ views on the subject are more political than scientific (see this article).

The views and policies of the agriculture industry regarding climate change are old and outdated. It is time that they get behind the push for a carbon tax and start supporting the cap and trade market. Simply building more reservoirs to capture rainfall that is not happening and making fixes to to a water supply system designed to move rainfall from one part of the state to another is not going to solve the problem as rainfall and snow pack diminish. Leaders in the agriculture industry need to wake up and start listening to the science and stop the misguided mantra of “it has to rain sometime”. It may rain sometime but odds are that, in the future, it will not be enough to meet our current needs.

This issue is not going away. In order to save our agriculture industry and way of life we must act. We must get our heads out of the sand and start looking at policies and legislation that will help reduce our country’s reliance on carbon and push our country into a better way of using energy.

Why are bees disappearing?

Bumble BeeI have been following stories bee population declines lately. I’m interested in these stories because the crop protection tools mentioned in these stories are things I sometimes use. I like to know as much as I can about these techniques so I can feel I am using them most effectively.

I must admit that most of the stories I see come to me through Facebook. It is an easy tool to organize interests and have stories show up that may interest you. I do find it mildly amusing and somewhat disturbing that many people seem to make judgments on stores without reading or even, if they do read, looking further into the source of the information they are reading, but that is pretty common on that social media platform.

I find it more disturbing that many people seem to know little about basic science, how it works, how ideas are looked at, analyzed and how to even tell if a study is even designed well. One of the basic rules I learned in science is that “correlation does not necessarily mean causation”. Take a look at the bee population decline issue. Here is the reasoning I see highlighted all over the internet: Bees are insects, pesticides kill insects, one kind of pesticide came out the same time the bees started to decline, therefore these pesticides are causing the bees to die. Correlation = Causation. Things are rarely so black and white. In a complex system as nature, lines are never that straight. Most of Europe banned those pesticides, except for England where conservationists went out and planted wildflowers. The bumblebee population that was in terrible decline started to rapidly bounce back (link to story here).

Bees are in decline for a number of reasons. I’m not saying that the jury is not still out on the role those certain pesticides may be playing, but jumping to a conclusion without looking at all the factors does not solve an issue. Saying the problem is pesticides, spending a lot of time, effort, money, etc. on that one factor and ignoring the rest does nothing to solve the problem. Most of the studies being done do not show that the pesticides are the problem but still the issue persists, mainly because the “social media” crazy is keeping it alive.

Habitat destruction is a big problem and that can’t all be pinned on the back of farming alone. Cropping patterns are changing and that is putting a larger demand on the need for bees. Also, all this moving the bees around long distances can’t be good for them either. Many of the wild plants that they may use in a natural diet, farmers destroy because many of those plants harbor diseases and pests that can transmit those diseases to their crops. More people require more land for homes and jobs, and if you go around your neighborhood you will see a different type of monoculture.

I think the problem with bees is a sign that says we all need to take a look at how we are treating our natural world. We are all in this together, and all of our choices matter. Pointing fingers at each other solves nothing.


GMO Food labeling, a necessary thing?

Election season is upon us and here in California we have, as usual, a long list of poorly written, ill conceived, Propositions to wade through. I won’t bore you here about what I think of this system of direct governance but I am going to discus one of the propositions on the ballot, Prop 37, which is supposed to make it mandatory for food that is produced with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) be labeled as such. There is a lot about this I could discuss but I do not want to write a lengthy “term paper”.

As a Plant Doctor I have worked with GMO crops that are resistant to certain insects, with lower the use of other pesticides to control them, and those that are resistant to certain herbicides making weed control easier. Some people have said that since the introduction of “Roundup Ready” crops the use of Roundup has increased thus, they say, more herbicides are being used. They don’t understand that the use of Roundup is up but the use of other herbicides for those crops are down. One big benefit of these herbicide resistant crops is the elimination of having to send people in to hand hoe the weeds. Hand labor is expensive and hard to come by.

The biggest problem I have with this “food labeling” idea is that we use our labels on food to identify nutritional information and make sure people with food allergies and other medical issues are able to identify what is safe for them to eat. There are NO medical or allergic issues with any GMO products. None! There is only conjecture based on faulty and deceptive science. There are many examples of these so called scientific studies all over the internet and most that have come under close scrutiny by credible scientific sources have show how flawed these studies are. One news story’s headline is GM Corn-Tumor Link Based on Poor Science. Even the American Medical Association (AMA) says that there is no need to label GMO products. The AMA formal statement reads, in part: “Our AMA believes that as of June 2012, there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods, as a class, …(see more).

Most people that want the labeling just want it because they don’t trust GMO food and they want to know if it is in their food. If they don’t want to trust the science that says it is safe that is their choice and they have the choice to buy organic food that is, by definition, GMO free. But to force that added cost onto everyone just because they have unfounded fear is beyond reason. If we started labeling, banning, and making policy choices based on the fact that some people have an unfounded fear of something, where would that end?

They say that we don’t know the long term effects of GMOs on our bodies. Well, that is true. But we don’t know the long term effects of most of the things we use. Do we not use them? Technological advances are needed to meet present day challenges. We need to grow more food on less land with less inputs and at the same or lower costs. How many people are going to go hungry while we wait to see if there are long term effect? Are we willing to set aside addressing current needs to find out? GMO technology will help us solve food production problems relating to plant and animal diseases, drought, and trying to squeeze more food out of less land. We can’t afford to stifle advances in this scientific tool by making people afraid of it by putting a label on the food as a warning.

(I apologize for not posting over the summer. Family matters along with the hectic summer growing season foiled my plans to blog more frequently)


Conversations that go no where?

Sometimes we try to get our point of view across to people and our converstion just goes over the heads of our audience. It is hard to have a conversation with people who think they know the facts but really are just interested in holding on to their beliefs no matter what.

Here is a funny video about one such conversation.


What Dragons do you need to train?

In my attempt to keep the TV off last night to avoid getting sucked into election nonsense, I watched a movie called “How to Train Your Dragon”. Cute movie about a boy who lives in a village the is beset by monstrous dragons that kill people and steal livestock. In his attempt to become a “real viking” and earn the title of “dragon killer” he wounds a dragon and in the process of trying to kill it, looks it in the eye and then can’t bring himself to kill it. When asked why he couldn’t he said “it looked as scared as I was, he look like me”. The story went on the show the boy getting to know the dragon, and visa versa, and then they worked together to destroy a common enemy. The eventually got all the people and dragons working together.

This was an interesting movie to watch on election night. I can see that all of us, regardless of class, race, political party, urban, rural, whatever, all want the same thing. We want security, happiness, joy, peace, etc. We want to live our lives the way we want and provide for our families. We want to know that the things we have now will be available for future generations. But when we look at someone who seems to be attacking the things we hold dear, we see DRAGONS to be fought and killed. We don’t bother to get to know them or to try to get them to know us. We don’t see that they have as much passion for the things they hold dear as we do about the things we hold dear. We focus on differences and therefore, cannot see the commonality of our shared humanity.

How do we train our dragons instead of trying to kill them? This is a paradigm shift in how we look at issues and people. When we look at those who we think are against us, look at them and know that you are looking at yourself. The foundation of what we all want, what is behind all of our dreams and desires are the same things. Even the dreams and desires that motivate those who do evil against us are really the same. We are all afraid that we will not have enough to give to our families, to have the job we want, to build the business we want, to have the health we want, to keep that which we have built and pass it on. We all fear the same thing. We all have that common enemy to fight. But instead of fighting that enemy we turn on each other because our view of how we see that enemy is different and therefore we think we are fighting different things.

People like to turn to the Bible to give reasons for their actions and beliefs. Well, take a look at 2 Corinthians 9:8. “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work”. God will give you everything, in ABUNDANCE. There is no exception clause. The Bible says “Ask and it is given” (Luke 11:9). What are you asking for? And when you ask for it, do you allow it to come to know by knowing, without a shadow of a doubt that God will provide you with that blessing, in abundance, or do you push it away but continuing to tell the story of how you do not have it?

We all want the same things. We have all been given access to all that we want. So why are we all so intent on fighting each other over the things we already can have. Why not just go out and claim it?


More on the Dirty Dozen

The Environmental Working Group’s list of the top commodities with pesticide residues, their so called “Dirty Dozen” is a very misleading study and does not seem to be replicated by other research do the same kind of investigations. California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation’s program has done the same kind of study for many years and has found the majority of produce sampled had no residue and of the small number that had residue the amount was well under tolerable levels (see recent data). Of course there are those that would argue that any amount of a chemical residue is too much but living in a society that benefits from chemical technology it seems that we have to tolerate some sort of safe levels. Where to we turn for information on these things? Do we go with the reports from “special interest” groups that have an agenda? Do we not trust government to give us the data we need? I have blogged on our perception of risk before and it bares repeating here that we evaluate risk based on emotions and not facts. The major health risks that have been identified are tobacco, over use of alcohol, obesity, and not pesticide residue. The continued use of scare tactics by groups that want pesticide use to stop entirely is counter productive to the need to get people to eat more produce and less processed foods. “Health experts and scientists say produce, grown either conventionally or organically, is safe to eat for you and your children. Not only are conventionally and organically grown fruits and vegetables safe and nutritious, Americans should be consuming more of these, not less, if they hope to reduce their risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.” This comes from a site with, I feel, good real data on this topic, There is much more information and data that says the produce we eat is safe than there is saying it is not. Consider the source of your information, look at a variety of sites, not just one or two that have an agenda, and be mindful of the real health issues out there. We all need to eat healthy and the produce grown in this country is the safest there is.