Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"That we may never forget . . ."

As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I receive from my dad little reminders every now and then of things like the following story. I think they are worth remembering no matter what your religious persuasion.

Who are the heroes of any age?

Irena Sendlerowa would make a good one.

Sendlerowa, more commonly known as Irena Sendler, died in May 2008 at the age of 98.

Why should we remember her? Here's her story, in brief:

During the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II, Irena helped smuggle Jews out of the Warsaw Ghetto. She used various means. She smuggled some babies in the bottom of a tool box she carried. She placed some older children in a burlap sack that she had in the back of a truck she borrowed. A couple of times she took a dog with her to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto.

The soldiers of course would want nothing to do with the dog, and, hopefully, the barking would also cover any inadvertent noises the children might make.

Over the course of a little more than three months in the summer of 1942, she managed to smuggle out and save close to a thousand children and adults.

Eventually Irena was caught, and the Nazis tortured her and fractured one of her legs and a foot.

Irena kept a record of the names of many of the children she smuggled out and kept them in glass jars, buried under an apple tree in her friend's back yard. After the war, she and the others from the group with whom she worked (there were 24 women and a man) tried to reunite the families of the almost 2500 people they had saved. Sadly, few were able to be reunited because so many family members had died at Treblinka.

Today she is remembered through a play called Life in a Jar.


In the original email that alerted me to Irena's life, the author attached this cartoon by Wiley Miller and commented,
It is now more than 60 years after the Second World War in Europe ended. This e-mail is being sent as a memorial chain, in memory of the six million Jews, 20 million Russians, 10 million Christians and 1,900 Catholic priests who were murdered. Now, more than ever, with Iran and others claiming the Holocaust to be 'a myth,' it's imperative to make sure the world never forgets, because there are others who would like to do it again.

This e-mail is intended to reach 40 million people worldwide!

Join us and be a link in the memorial chain and help us distribute it around the world.

Please send this e-mail to people you know and ask them to continue the memorial chain.
It is with that intention in mind that I did my own research, discovered many errors in the original email (but a fair enough conglomeration of facts) and determined to make this post.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Internet to be suppressed in the U.S.?

I saw the graphic being placed on certain websites and thought it had to be a myth. There is no way this graphic could possibly be from the Department of Homeland Security. What a joke!

I found it at http://torrent-finder.com. And the page "title" says, "This domain name has been seized by ICE - Homeland Security Investigations."

But, come on! "National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center: 'Protection is our Trademark'"?!? And the picture of a badge for a "Special Agent" of "Homeland Security Investigations"?!? This is some kind of spoof, isn't it?

But Mike Adams, who brought it to my attention, seemed to be in dead earnest:
As part of a new expansion of government power over information, the Department of Homeland Security has begun seizing and shutting down internet websites (web domains) without due process or a proper trial. DHS simply seizes web domains that it wants to and posts an ominous "Department of Justice" logo on the web site. See an example at http://torrent-finder.com

Over 75 websites were seized and shut down last week, and there is no indication that the government will stop such efforts. Right now, their focus is websites that they claim "violate copyrights," yet the torrent-finder.com website that was seized by DHS contained no copyrighted content whatsoever. It was merely a search engine website that linked to destinations where people could access copyrighted content. Google also links to copyrighted content -- does that mean the feds will soon seize Google, too?
I thought, "This has got to be a joke!"--a response strengthened by my having found Mike complaining in all seriousness, just the day before, about a 1950s-era ad from the "Soda Pop Board of America"--an ad that I found was totally bogus.
I can't figure out how to link directly to my comments on the Natural News website, so I quote it here:
Please don't embarrass yourself by referencing fake/parody ads as if they were real! Please see http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=59204 . . . which references http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=American_Beverage_Association. There is and never was a Soda Pop Board of America. --Or do you have some further evidence of which I (and, apparently, a number of bloggers--see here and here, for just two examples) are unaware? Indeed, considering the outcry you created the last time you posted this, why would you post it again?
Despite my misgivings, however, I followed up.

And it seems there really may be some substance to what he's talking about.

It appears ICE - Homeland Security Investigations is "merely" jumping out ahead a little of pending legislation, S.3804, COICA--the Combatting Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act. And "all" they're trying to do is (something that I applaud, in principle) protect the rights of intellectual property owners.

The problem is the methodology.

As Professor David Post of the Beasley School of Law, Temple University, has written concerning COICA:
In place of a final determination after an adversary proceeding that the website in question contain infringing material, the Act permits the issuance of speech-suppressing injunctions without any meaningful opportunity for any party to contest the Attorney General’s allegations of unlawful content. The domain name registrars, registries, service providers, and domain name server operators against whom injunctions can be issued pursuant to the Act will have, in virtually all cases, no information whatsoever concerning the allegations regarding the presence of infringing content at the target websites because they have no relationship to the operators of those websites; they are therefore in no position, and they have no conceivable incentive, to contest those allegations. The Act contains no provisions designed to ensure that the persons actually responsible for the allegedly infringing content – the operators of the target websites – are even aware of the proceedings against them, let alone have been afforded any meaningful opportunity to contest the allegations in a true, adversarial proceeding. These target websites, by virtue of the Act’s assertion of in rem jurisdiction over domain names, may (and presumably often will) be located in, and/or controlled by citizens of, other countries; the Act specifically permits courts in these actions to exercise jurisdiction provided only that either:
          (a) the domain name registrar, or the domain name registry, is located within the United States, or
          (b) the domain has been accessed by users within the United States, and the website “conducts business directed to the United States” and “harms holders of United States intellectual property rights.”
     Rather than give these foreign website operators a meaningful opportunity to be heard and to contest the allegations of illegality in an adversarial hearing, the Act requires only that the Attorney General notify the domain name registrant – who may, but in many cases will not, be the operator of the website in question – of an intent to proceed against the site. Injunctions may be entered entirely ex parte, without the participation of any other party, and the Act does not provide for any review of a judge’s ex parte determination that the website in question contains unlawful material. This falls far short of what the Constitution requires before speech can be eliminated from public circulation.
At root: We're looking at censorship. And, as Post concludes his letter, the loss of free speech under this law would have deep significance:
At a time when dozens of foreign governments have dramatically stepped up their efforts to censor Internet communications in order to suppress legitimate dissent, to marginalize religious minorities, and to prevent citizens from obtaining information about the world outside their borders, the United States has always been a voice – often the only voice – opposing these efforts. Our ability to defend the principle of the single global Internet – the Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas, the Internet that looks the same to, and allows free and unfettered communication between, users located in Shanghai and Seattle and Santiago, free of locally-imposed censorship regimes – will be deeply compromised by enactment of S. 3804, which would enshrine in U.S. law for the first time the contrary principle: that all countries have a right to insist on the removal of content, wherever located, from the global Internet in service of the exigencies of local law. Nothing limits the application of this principle to copyright or trademark infringement, and nothing limits the application of this principle to actions by the United States; when all countries exercise this prerogative in support of their local legal regimes, as they surely will, we will have lost – or, more properly speaking, we will have destroyed – the single global inter-connected communications platform that we have built over the past several decades and that holds out so much promise for the improvement of human society across the globe.
Post and his colleagues (the letter is co-signed by over 50 law school professors) have much more to say. I encourage you to read it. It does a nice job of explaining the constitutional issues involved.

Mike Adams notes,
Today the U.S. government is targeting websites focused on copyright violations, but if the public tolerates this government-sponsored censorship of the web, it's only a matter of time before these government powers are expanded to control the content of the internet.

Over the last few years, several U.S. Senators have already attempted to outlaw vitamins and nutritional supplements. One lawmaker even suggested that "alternative health" information should be outlawed on the internet in order to "protect" people from information that isn't aligned with the drugs-and-surgery approach to sick care. It's only a matter of time, it seems, before the U.S. government uses its new power of seizing internet websites as an information warfare weapon to silence anyone who opposes FDA and the Big Pharma agenda.

In fact, under these new laws, there's no limit to what websites the U.S. government could choose to seize and shut down. This is the beginning of the federal takeover of the internet, where all websites that don't fall in line with "official" government-approved information are now potential targets of DHS seizures.

One music website seized by DHS -- RapGodFather.com -- was seized merely because its users posted comments linking to file-sharing websites (http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2010/11/...). The site had 150,000 members, but as of today, it is the property of "Homeland Security Investigations."
But, again, he's being hysterical, isn't he? We're not talking about legalizing the suppression of legitimate free speech! We're talking about shuttering sites that engage in theft!

Aren't we?

Maybe not.

Adams encourages readers to "See the TorrentFreak.com news report" about RapGodFather. --I did. And it is disturbing, indeed.

"Australia in recent years set up a 'firewall' around its Internet, with the intention of blacklisting child pornography Web sites," wrote Daniel Tencer on RawStory.com. --And which of us wants to promote child pornography? I certainly don't!
But a list of the blocked sites, leaked to Wikileaks, showed that the Australian government was censoring more than porn: The blacklist contained religious and political Web sites.

According to the Melbourne Age:
[A]bout half of the sites on the list are not related to child porn and include a slew of online poker sites, YouTube links, . . . Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions . . . , Christian sites, the website of a tour operator and even a Queensland dentist.

"It seems to me as if just about anything can potentially get on the list," [University of Sydney associate professor Bjorn] Landfelt said.
As predicted by some critics, the "great Aussie firewall" ended up blocking access to parts of WikiLeaks.
--For more on COICA, see Will Internet censorship bill be pushed through lame-duck Congress?.

Gardasil--the failed drug for girls--now being promoted for boys (??!!??)

I referenced a couple of articles yesterday that discussed the track record of Gardasil for girls--y'know, how it is killing approximately one young woman a month, not to mention the hundreds of young women who have been permanently disabled by the vaccine . . . all to achieve a minor, potential, low-single-digits percentage relief from two possible sources of cervical cancer.

Well, with that kind of track record, what can you expect from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but a plan to ensure boys, also, are injected with the drug! (???)

What?!? Why?

In Douglass' inimitable style:
Since boys obviously can’t get cervical cancer, the vaccine peddlers have had to scheme up other reasons to push this on them.

And some of them are real beauts.

Ever hear of a life-threatening case of genital warts? Of course you haven’t — but the feds think your boy should be inoculated… just in case.

Not good enough for you? Don’t worry — they’ve cooked up some more “benefits” for you and your boy: If he grows up to prefer men over women, the vaccine might protect him from anal cancer.

I don’t know anyone outside of California who makes health decisions for a child based on the assumption that he might turn out to be gay someday — but even if he did, bear in mind that the CDC says the anal cancer rate among gays is “as high as” 37 for every 100,000.

That’s 0.037 percent, folks. And the “as high as” means it’s probably much lower than that.

But the writing’s on the wall — Gardasil will make the list for boys sooner or later. All you can do is arm yourself now — with information — so when they come a-knocking for your son, you’ll have the power to tell them where they can shove that needle.
Once more I ask: Is our government truly interested in preserving our lives, liberties, and our ability to pursue our own happiness? Or is it in the back pocket of certain large industrial interests to help them maximize their profits?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Your federal taxes protecting scientifically-based medicine?

I was floored by Dr. Douglass' claim this morning:
Inside the mystery placebos

Why bother creating a good drug -- all you really need to do is come up with a bad placebo.

Statins, for example, would look positively fantastic if you could somehow spike the placebo with strychnine.

Far-fetched? Maybe not -- because the truth is, nobody knows what the heck is in most of the placebos used in drug trials.

Nobody, that is, except for the researchers and their Big Pharma backers.

In a new analysis, researchers looked at 176 studies published in four major medical journals between January 2008 and December 2009 to see what placebos were used.

They didn't get very far: Just 8.2 percent of all pill studies and 26.7 percent of all injection studies disclosed the contents of the placebo, according to the study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Think that's outrageous? That's nothing -- the real outrage here is that the feds have NO requirement at all that researchers disclose the contents of their placebos.


And if you think researchers aren't taking full advantage of that little loophole, well, there's probably a job opening for you at the FDA.

But all you need to do is look at some of the placebos that we do have information on to realize there's plenty of room for funny business.

Take the Gardasil vaccine I've been warning you about. [For some of Douglass' warnings, see for example, his report on adverse reactions to the vaccine released by the FDA only after a FOIA demand by Judicial Watch, the non-partisan conservative anti-corruption watchdog organization; or this follow-up from last month--JAH]

In one trial, the researchers spiked the placebo with aluminum, a metal that can cause the same types of nerve damage that have been linked to Gardasil.

That's a placebo "effect" straight out of hell.

In a study mentioned in the new analysis, a med for anorexic cancer patients went up against a "placebo" made of lactose. Of course, cancer patients are often lactose intolerant, and a lactose pill will certainly cause side effects.

And if I know that, you can bet the researchers behind that study sure as heck did as well.

Think about that next time you read about a "placebo-controlled" trial -- because in reality, there's no control at all.
Douglass is often pooh-poohed as a quack. I figure I need to be extra-vigilant if I am going to quote him. So I decided to look up this un-referenced analytical study. Is it a hoax?

Apparently not.

It appeared just a little over a month ago in the Annals of Internal Medicine (October 19, 2010 153:532-535)--abstract available for free here. And though I have not read the full article, every reference elsewhere on the 'net indicates Dr. Douglass is accurately communicating the study's findings. The study authors themselves graciously conclude, "Because the nature of the placebo can influence trial outcomes, placebo formulation should be disclosed in reports of placebo-controlled trials."

Respondents to the study are a bit more outspoken:
It [is a big] ethical problem when the placebo in some cases now have been shown to actually have had adverse effects on these patients['] health, by not being acceptable zero point-standards for the actual medications on trial.

. . . It is also of ethical concern when the patients having the luck of being selected for the "proper" medical treatment, have actually been subjected to medication where its positive effect has been overestimated, non-exist[ant], or even of the negative kind; and all because the treatment effects ha[ve] been compared to a placebo which was not a non-active zero-point-substance, but rather a substance having negative health effects, and thereby, in the comparison, ended up documenting a false positive medical healing effect of the medication.

Conclusion: We now have no way of knowing which medicines are being beneficial to the patients being treated, and which are having no effects at all, or which are actually having negative effects on the patients['] health.

With this report, the whole of pharmaceutical research have lost its credibility. It may or may not be a cynical act by the individual researcher and/or by his/her research group or leader. It is, however, not easy to make excuses for the pharmaceutical companies, since the actual research as a common universal procedure, should have been submitted to meticulous quality control by independ[e]nt researchers h[a]ving no bonds to the company, before a final approval was being given, and the medication was being introduced to the medical community.

This report is weakening the whole foundation wall of all pharmaceutical research. It is from now on not possible to trust any existing information about the effects and side-effects of pharmaceutical medicine. Unfair as it may be, this will affect honest and dishonest researchers alike!
There's more, but I will encourage you to read the comments for yourself.

. . . This kind of report continues to undermine my faith in Big Pharma and the FDA as caretakers of my health. How about you?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Love to buy fresh fruit from the neighbors? Corn from a roadside stand? Pie from a skilled baker friend? Such pleasures may soon go bye-bye!

Sorry. I'm so "into" research, I'm afraid I forgot how to "market" ideas!

The title of this post tells the real story of my post last night.

Is the world going to come to an end if S510 passes . . . and especially without the Tester-Hagan amendment? No. The world won't end.

But plan to see the federal government, by means of its ever-vigilant-against-the-little-guys/ever-vigilant-in-behalf-of-the-big-guys FDA, cracking down hard on the family gardeners and small-town farmers who dare attempt to sell their fruit or vegetables or homemade pies without first paying $500/year in protection money (not to mention filing mounds of newly-required government reports)!

Yes, by everything I can see, that really is the import of this egregious attempted power-grab on the part of the major industrial agriculture vendors.

I know. It seems hard to believe. But, please: READ THE EVIDENCE. Follow the links.

It really is that bad.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

S510--Industrial ag businesses show their true colors!

S510 is all about food safety. That's what the bill's sponsors want us to believe. That's its title: The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.

But when you get down to it, is it really about food safety? Or is it, as so many federal bills and rules and regulations seem to be today, window dressing on the problem ("lipstick on the pig"), a protection scheme for major agribusinesses, and a brilliant (hidden) means for those self-same agribusinesses to put their smaller competitors out of business or, at least, at a serious disadvantage?

The Weston A. Price Foundation sent out the following update on Monday evening:
Last week, the Senate voted 74-25 to move to consideration of S.510, the Food Safety Modernization Act. After thirty hours of debate and behind-the-scenes negotiations, the Senators released a final Managers Amendment that includes a compromise version of the Tester-Hagan amendment.
The compromise Tester-Hagan amendment . . .
  • Exempts producers whose revenue is less than $500,000 a year and who sell more than half of their products directly to consumers or "qualified end-users."
  • Specifies that "retail food establishments" -- which are exempt from the existing requirements to register with FDA and from the other new federal requirements in this law -- includes businesses that sell directly to consumers through farmers' markets, roadside stands and other local outlets.
  • Requires the FDA to conduct a study that looks at the incidence of foodborne illness in relation to the size and type of the facility, as well as the risks associated with commingling, processing, transporting, and storing food, "including differences in risk based on the scale and duration of such activities." In other words, for the first time, the FDA will have to collect and evaluate data on how different management practices affect the risk of foodborne illness.
  • Requires the FDA to consider the data mentioned above as it defines "very small businesses," which will also be exempt from the new requirements.
(For the full text of the amendment, go here.)

On constitutional grounds,I don't see how the Senate has any right to make any such rule concerning businesses whose commerce is conducted wholly within one state or another. The federal government, according to the Constitution, has the right and responsibility only to oversee interstate commerce, not intrastate commerce.

But ignoring that not-so-fine point of constitutional law, and granting the federal government powers it has no right to have, still, considering the requirements of the unamended law--requirements that place a relatively minor burden on large ("industrial scale") food processors, but could put smaller, family-run operations out of business--it seems to me that the Tester-Hagan Amendment is the least the Senate should do in behalf of small-scale and local farm sand food distributors.


So the Tester-Hagan amendment is currently included in S510. Good news, yes?

Maybe not!

According to Weston A. Price Foundation:
[E]ven though an agreement was reached on the Tester-Hagan amendment last week, the issue is . . . not over. The final vote on the bill has been delayed until Monday, November 29. . . . And, in the meantime, Agribusiness has shown its true colors.

For over a year, the big Agribusiness trade organizations have supported passage of S.510. From Agribusinesses'' perspective, the bill was a win-win: they could absorb the costs of the regulations because of their size; they'd gain good PR for supposedly improving food safety practices; and the competition created by local food producers, which is rapidly growing, would be crushed by the regulatory burdens.

This was only speculation until now. But when the Senators agreed to include the Tester-Hagan amendment in the bill, . . . twenty Agribusiness trade organizations fired off a letter stating that they would now oppose the bill.

The letter from the Agribusiness groups states:
[B]y incorporating the Tester amendment in the bill, consumers will be left vulnerable to the gaping holes and uneven application of the law created by these exemptions. In addition, it sets an unfortunate precedent for future action on food safety policy by Congress that science and risk-based standards can be ignored.
What science and risk? No one has produced any data or evidence of any widespread problems caused by local producers and marketed directly to consumers. All of the major foodborne illness outbreaks have been caused by products that went through the long supply chains of Agribusiness.

Agribusinesses' real concern about the Tester-Hagan amendment isn't food safety, but the precedent set by having Congress recognize that small, direct-marketing producers are different, and should be regulated differently than large Agribusinesses.

Agribusiness is trying to convince the Senators to pull the Tester-Hagan amendment back out. While the amendment is currently part of the Managers Package, the amended version of the bill agreed to by six bipartisan sponsors, nothing is certain until the actual vote.


This Thanksgiving week, please take a moment to call or email your Senators to tell them to hold firm on KEEPING the Tester-Hagan amendment part of the bill.

You can call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or go to www.senate.gov to find their website (if the phone lines are busy, the best way to reach them is through the Contact Page on their website)
Oh, come on! I can hear some of my readers say. What's the big deal? Indeed, if you have read the Snopes article on the subject of the Food Safety Acts, you may be tempted to say the entire concern is overblown and tantamount to a hoax. After all, their attempt at a level-headed evaluation says the grounds for concerns expressed about these bills possibly "eliminat[ing] home gardens and put[ting] organic farmers out of business" are "Mostly False." Most of the claims about "dire results citizens would face should the bill pass . . . [were/are] unwarranted by anything stated within the bill itself."

Whew! Relax! Take a deep breath!

. . . Interesting, then, to see the same Snopes article suggest that "Sources such as the Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund are better starting points for grasping some of the issues regarding how [the bill] might affect small farmers."

So let's go to the Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) website and find out what they have to say.

The Snopes article, written in early 2009, actually links to an article that has to do with a bill that is now out of date.

So let us take an article that deals with the situation we face today.

Sign the petition to Reject S.510, it begins. "More than ever S510 represents a major threat to the local food movement, states' autonomy to regulate food, and the country's ability to become self-sufficient in food production," it continues.

Whoa! What?!?

Because S510 is really a parallel to a House Bill (HR2749), and the arguments for and against one are generally good for and against the other, I am taking the best material from articles about both bills to help you understand the issues at stake.

In HR 2749’s Real Impacts: a Response to Consumers’ Union, FTCLDF writes,
The FTCLDF agrees that the industrial food safety system has serious flaws and needs to be fixed. The country has seen numerous outbreaks of foodborne illnesses caused by imported foods or domestic foods that were processed in huge facilities and shipped throughout the country. Unfortunately, [the bill] does not focus FDA’s efforts on these very real problems. Instead, it creates a regulatory framework that will heavily burden the small farms and local food processors, the very people who provide a safe, healthy alternative to the industrial food supply.

Food safety is a priority shared by everyone. The FTCLDF calls on [proponents of the bill] to explain exactly how the bill would address the industrial food supply problems without harming the local food movement. The fact that massive, industrial food companies, such as Peanut Corporation of America, have killed or sickened people is a strong argument for regulating such companies, and we applaud CU’s efforts to improve the industrial food supply. But the wrongs committed by these companies are not a valid basis for harming the hundreds of thousands of safe, healthy small farms and artisan producers who will be burdened, or even driven out of business, by [the bill].
FTCLDF then goes into detail about the problems:
  • $500 Annual Registration Fee (not to mention paperwork required to report to the FDA) for any "facility" that holds, processes, or manufactures food.
    While the statute excludes “farms,” the FDA’s current regulations take a very narrow view of what qualifies. Under the existing regulations, a place that grows food and does any processing of that food for sale [is] not . . . a farm, and thus would be subject to [the bill]. . . . In other words, a farm that washes greens, cut vegetables, or dries fruit before selling it would be forced to register and pay the annual fee under the regulatory definition of “farm.”

    Currently, FDA has a guidance document that modifies the regulation and allows “farms” to process food so long as the ingredients are grown on the same farm. [However, e]ven under the guidance document, many small farms and artisanal producers could be required to register. FDA has not strictly enforced this requirement so far, but that is no guarantee about future actions by the agency. And if the agency were to revoke the guidance document and enforce the registration requirement in accordance with the definition of “farm” contained in the regulations, many farms would be required to register and, under the FSEA, pay an annual fee.

    Moreover, farms are not the only issue. There are thousands of individuals who are making artisan foods, such as making jams, breads, fermented vegetables, cheese, or other foods, which they sell to directly to customers at local farmers markets and similar venues. All of these individuals would be forced to pay an annual fee of $500 to the FDA and comply with extensive paperwork burdens. Notably, the fee is the same regardless of whether it applies to an individual selling a few hundred dollars worth of product or a multi-million dollar company shipping products all over the country.

    It is not equitable for a local grandmother making jam from farmers’ excess fruit to have to pay the same fee as a Heinz processing plant. Nor does the FTCLDF believe local artisan food processor should be subject to the same extensive paperwork requirements as the massive industrial processing plants.
  • Regulation of how farms grow and harvest crops.

    FTCLDF agrees . . . that [the bill] does not call for the elimination of organic practices. However, the bill’s provision directing the [FDA] to set standards for how food is grown and harvested is very troubling. For example, after the E. coli outbreak linked to spinach that was grown in California and then processed and sent all over the country, the agency developed guidelines that were based entirely on the industrial agriculture model. . . . The guidelines were expensive, burdensome, and wholly unnecessary for small, diversified farms.

    After FTCLDF issued its first alert, [the Food Safety bill] was amended to direct FDA “to take into consideration, consistent with ensuring enforceable public health protection, the impact on small scale and diversified farms . . .” While this is an encouraging step, it does not provide sufficient protection.

    The FDA has yet to demonstrate that it has any understanding whatsoever of the needs of small scale and diversified farms. And the new language does not prevent FDA from developing standards that drive such farms out of business under the guise of developing “enforceable standards.”

    No one has demonstrated any need for FDA to regulate growing practices on small and diversified farms. No major outbreaks have been traced to such farms. There is nothing to be gained, and much to be lost, by granting FDA this authority.
  • And the list continues . . .
How truly problematic is this legislation? And how necessary is it to begin with? What is it really meant to address?

I thought the following articles were enlightening.

The September 2010 Acres USA magazine includes a brief report that references an article in Food Safety News. How did E. coli O145 infect romaine lettuce that then sickened people around the country? The Acres USA author notes,
One of the largest cattle feedlots in the country is located about 20 miles from the heart of Arizona's leafy green production in the Gila and Dome Valleys. Conditions in the feedlot produce huge volumes of mud, as dirt mix manure and water. When dry, hot, windy weather hits, the mud dries, the cattle breakdown clumps into dust, and the dust blows, often for many miles.

The FDA is pushing ahead with the process of establishing new leafy green food safety regulations. The new requirements fail to target . . . sick or stressed cattle shedding E. coli . . . and other [pathogens] in their manure.
Then there's the article Risk, bacteria, and the tragedy of food-safety reform from Grist.org:
It is impossible, it seems, to come up with a policy that zeroes in on the real systematic risk of the food system: the exponential expansion of hazard that comes from concentrating huge amounts of production in relatively small spaces.

Clearly, highly profitable industries like Big Food wield tremendous power in our political system. Just as no health-care reform could pass that didn't respect the privileges of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, just as no climate policy could even be attempted without including massive giveaways to the very industries that cause climate change (see Ryan Lizza's tragicomic post-mortem in The New Yorker), food safety reform is evidently hostage to Big Food.

The Grocery Manufacturers of America, a potent trade group whose members range from Monsanto and Cargill to Kraft and McDonald's, supports S. 510. That alone tells me that the bill at best promotes marginal, techno-based solutions to the food-safety problem, ones that don't challenge the interests, or practices, of the food giants. As Food and Water Watch's Elanor Starmer recently pointed out on Grist, the bill's new inspection powers for the FDA are so weak that they would not even have prevented the notorious salmonella-tainted peanut butter scandal of 2009. And yet -- as David Gumpert argued forcefully in our forum -- those same powers may well prove too strong for the small-scale, vulnerable operations that are busily building up alternatives to Big Food. . . .

to tease out my point, let's consider the role of the federal government in regulating two kinds of dairy farms: industrial-scale ones in Wisconsin, and a small artisanal operation in Washington State.

In a fantastic investigative piece last year, The New York Times' Charles Duhigg looked at a spate of illnesses in a dairy-intensive Wisconsin county. He wrote:

There are 41,000 dairy cows in Brown County, which includes Morrison, and they produce more than 260 million gallons of manure each year, much of which is spread on nearby grain fields. Other farmers receive fees to cover their land with slaughterhouse waste and treated sewage.
After an early thaw last year, some of those quarter-billion gallons of cow shit found their way into people's drinking water. Reports Duhigg:

In Morrison, more than 100 wells were polluted by agricultural runoff within a few months, according to local officials. As parasites and bacteria seeped into drinking water, residents suffered from chronic diarrhea, stomach illnesses and severe ear infections.
So here we have a case of vast concentration of production, and a situation wherein known microbial pathogens (including E. coli and fecal coliform) are destined to foul people's water and make them ill. This is systematic, predictable risk. The federal government's response?

[R]unoff from all but the largest farms is essentially unregulated by many of the federal laws intended to prevent pollution and protect drinking water sources. The Clean Water Act of 1972 largely regulates only chemicals or contaminants that move through pipes or ditches, which means it does not typically apply to waste that is sprayed on a field and seeps into groundwater.
Now let's look at case No. 2: Estrella Family Creamery in Washington state, where Kelli Estrella and her family tend 36 cows and 40 goats and turn their milk into highly regarded unpasteurized cheeses. New York Times food-business reporter William Neuman reports that -- unlike those Wisconsin dairies -- the Estrella operation has made no one sick. Yet FDA inspectors have found listeria in some of her cheeses -- and moved to shut down her operation after she refused to submit to a "voluntary" recall. And they've banned Estrella from selling both her hard and soft cheeses, even though only her soft cheese tested positive for listeria.

Now, I don't want to make light of the threat of listeria, a truly nasty bacteria. But let's look as the risks here. Unlike the case of the Wisconsin dairies, the risks are incidental, not systematic. People made cheese for millenia before the advent of pasteurization in the 19th century -- and in much of Europe, nearly all cheese is still made with raw milk. Small children and pregnant mothers aren't regularly falling over from cheese-eating in France. Listeria can infect raw milk cheese, but by no means does it always infect raw milk cheese.

Moreover, listeria from Estrella Creamery cheese threatens only those people who knowingly buy the product, while runoff from Wisconsin's industrial-scale dairies infects everyone who lives nearby. And the threats from Estrella remain theoretical; unlike in that dairy-intensive Wisconsin county, no one has reported falling ill from eating Estrella cheese.

And yet federal officials take an our-hands-are-tied approach to the menace of tainted water in Wisconsin, and bring down an iron fist on the small dairy in Washington. It's hard not to conclude that the disparate responses stem from the fact that industrial-scale dairy farmers -- and the very few large processors that purchase their milk -- have bought influence in Washington, while artisanal cheese producers haven't. This is food safety as protection racket.

For Big Food, the answer to these microbial dilemmas might well end up being: sterilize it all. Most cheese consumed in the United States is made from pasteurized milk; make them pasteurize all of it. And if runoff from fields sprayed with waste from massive dairies is fouling drinking water, then make those big dairies "treat" the waste with antimicrobials before spreading it.

But Bilger's profile of Sandor Katz suggests a different approach. The real systematic risks in our food system don't come from bacteria itself; indeed, bacteria is fundamental to life. The problem comes from concentration of bacteria to the point where sicknesses become inevitable. So de-concentrate the food system, don't sterilize it.

And as for cases like Estrella Creamery, the push should be to identify the source of the listeria and address it, not to shut the dairy down.

Of course, in our political system, creating a food-safety regime that targets the real systematic risk in food production seems impossible. So, while we take small steps forward like S. 510, let's not lose sight of the need to rein in the giant corporations that generate most of the risk, and nurture the small producers who are doing the necessary work of de-concentrating our pathogen-concentrating food system.
Or, back to FTCLDF and the article FDA's Ace in the Hole:
Despite there being not even a single report of illness, there have been numerous instances over the past four years where licensed raw milk dairies in New York and Pennsylvania have had their sales suspended due to positive tests for Listeria monocytogenes (L-mono), a sometimes virulent foodborne pathogen. The farmers typically lost a week to two weeks in sales plus the price of any milk the farms received back after issuing a recall due to the discovery of L-mono in a milk sample. Some farmers were also fined for adulteration because the raw milk was deemed to contain a “harmful substance which may render the milk injurious to health.”
Sounds good, doesn't it? Why should the government play games with L-mono? If the bacterium is "sometimes virulent," doesn't it make sense to assume it is dangerous?

Well . . . If that's the standard, then the government had better shut down virtually all milk and meat producers, all farms, all water processing plants, all everything. Shouldn't it? Virtually all meats and milks and farm products and water we drink: they all contain pathogens. So why these particular milk producers? Could it, by any chance, have anything to do with the political power of the milk producers who prefer pasteurization over holding themselves to a higher standard of cleanliness throughout the production process (and not only after pasteurization)?
For the last thirty-eight years, and possibly further back, there have been no reports of illness caused by the consumption of raw milk that was attributed to L-mono. . . .
Part of the reason there have been no reports of illness may be because "[t]here are many subtypes of Listeria monocytogenes; many of these subtypes have not been implicated in human illness." And, "Even if the subtype of L-mono is virulent, it still needs to be determined whether the amount of bacteria in the food is enough to cause illness in humans. FDA has a “zero” tolerance policy for L-mono, a standard widely rejected by the scientific community throughout the world. The European Union (EU) allows up to 100 organisms per gram in food at the end of its shelf life."

So what is going on here? Politics?

Check this out:
L-mono is widespread in the environment. If environmental testing at a food plant is positive for L-mono, foods produced in the plant at that time could be found to be adulterated due their having “been prepared, packed, or held under unsanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health.” FDA didn’t find any L-mono in the environment at the Morningland plant but it was not for lack of trying; the agency took one hundred environmental swabs in the plant, all of which came up negative. The agency inspector collecting the swabs promised the dairy’s owners, Joe and Denise Dixon, that they would be getting a copy of the report but to this date no report has been received.

. . . FDA’s position is that if a food sample tests positive for L-mono or any other pathogen, any other food produced on the same equipment is adulterated. This position was also taken by the Missouri Milk Board in its handling of the Morningland case [even though, as indicated, they found no evidence that the equipment at Morningland had been contaminated!].

A Milk Board inspector told Joe that the embargoed cheese would still be suspect even if samples of it did test negative. When Joe asked the inspector, “Why do we even test?” There was no response.

Recently, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has pressured farmstead cheesemakers in Washington state and Missouri into recalling thousands of pounds of cheese due to samples testing positive for L-mono even though in neither case was there a single report of foodborne illness blamed on the farmstead operations.

Compared to the raw milk incidents mentioned above, the stakes are much higher here. Unlike the raw milk producers who can only sell in their own states due to the federal interstate ban, raw milk cheese aged at least sixty days can be sold anywhere in the U.S. and has a longer shelf life, meaning a great deal more money can be lost due to a recall.

The Missouri farmstead operation, Morningland Dairy, not only recalled over sixty thousand pounds of cheese but there is an additional fifty thousand pounds at the facility that is currently under embargo. The value of the embargoed cheese is around $250,000. In the thirty years it has been in business, there has never been a single case of foodborne [illness] attributed to the consumption of any of the dairy’s products.

The Missouri State Milk Board, pressured by FDA, has ordered that the cheese “be condemned as an adulterated, unlawful product” and has sought a court ruling that the product be destroyed. An inspector from the Milk Board has told the dairy that it must destroy all of the remaining cheese in order to get back into business; [at the time of writing, on October 13, 2010] cheese production at Morningland has been shut down since August 26, shortly after the Milk Board was notified by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) that samples of Morningland’s cheese products had tested positive for L-mono and Staphylococcus aureus. [Note in orginal article: Staph aureus, is present normally on everybody’s skin and is considered protective. Most subtypes of this organism do not produce the toxin which can occasionally cause vomiting. Gastrointestinal illness from Staph aureus is self limiting—meaning medical treatment is not necessary].
The article concludes:
The cheese cases are an indicator of what could happen if S510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, passes into law giving FDA mandatory recall power. The cases show how the recall power along with the food safety plan requirement [see HARPC] in the bill would be an effective way for the agency to cripple raw dairy producers who have harmed no one with their products. If S510 passes, state agencies and laboratories will be getting more funding from FDA and the influence of the agency on states in pushing its anti-raw milk agenda will increase. In working toward this end, “Listeria monocytogenes,” in Joe Dixon’s words, “can be FDA’s ace in the hole.”

For more on this subject, please see the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance . . . or look up tester-hagan amendment or food safety modernization act.

It is time to put an end to colossal businesses calling the shots in Washington for their own benefit!

"Other" ways of thinking and learning . . .

I thought this cartoon from "One Big Happy," by Rick Detorie, perfectly reflects something I've seen numerous times throughout my life. Grandpa is helping Ruthie, a young elementary school age girl, with her homework. He reads the major, defining portion of the sentence. She completes it:
Choose [the best] word from the word box to complete each sentence.

Word Box

"You buy food at a . . ." Grandpa begins. "--Park!" says Ruthie. "You know, hot dogs and ice cream from the li'l carts."

"You sit down on a . . ." "--Horse! Unless you're one of those trick riders."

"You play at the . . ." "--Store. . . . When mom's shopping, Joe and I play hide and seek in the deli section!"

"You ride a . . ." "--Chair! I love rockers!"
There's a little more (Grandpa expresses concern about how well Ruthie may be doing in school and she offers her perspective), but I think what I've quoted gets to the heart of what I'm interested in, here.

Ever bumped into someone like Ruthie?

It seems as if some of us tend to think in ways alternative to the mainstream. "Regular" people find these ways of thinking completely baffling. Ridiculous. Inappropriate.

"Quit trying to be cute!" they may say. Or, "You're making it more difficult than it needs to be!" Or, "Quit trying to think of the most obscure option. Choose the most obvious." Or, even, "Don't look for ways that all answers could work. Just try to think of the answer that most people are likely to think of."

And, yet, still some of us rebel: "I'm not 'trying to be cute.'" "I'm not trying to 'make it difficult'; I'm simply trying to acknowledge the truth: Things are not as simple as you (and, apparently, many--most?--other people) want to believe." "I see how and why you think ______ is obvious. But this other answer is also 'obvious.' At least it is to me!" "As for whatever answer you think 'most people' are likely to think of: Well, I haven't interviewed most people."

"You're just being obstinate."

"I'm just trying to be truthful. There is not just one answer to your question. So when you ask me which one is the 'right' answer, I have to tell you that there are two or three right answers. Your 'one' is not 'the' right answer!"

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Can organic/biodynamic (as opposed to chemical-based) agriculture feed the world?

If you've read The Omnivore's Dilemma or watched Food, Inc., you have been introduced to Joel Salatin, the owner and proprietor of Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Readers of Acres USA are also well familiar with him; he is a regular columnist.

In the September 2010 issue of Acres USA, Salatin addressed "by far and away the most frequently asked question" he is asked. Specifically: "Ecological farming--compost and pastured livestock and all: It sounds nice, but can it really feed the world?"

Common answer, "even true blue defenders of the ecological/local food approach" offer: "Well, . . ." (embarrased silence).

Salatin suggests we should take an historical view. And if we do, we may find a different, very well-informed answer.

I like history. I am intrigued by the answer he suggests. I hope to do further study to find out exactly how accurate his claims really are.

First thing to note: Scientific agriculture, whether chemical or organic/biodynamic, is a relatively recent phenomenon. "Up until 1900, both the United States and Australia had plenty of new ground to exploit. Although the American colonial period wore out land, the virgin soils of western expansion always offered an alternative." As a result, no one (at least not here in the United States) was paying much attention to how one might replenish the soil.

By the 1930s and the dust bowls, no one could remain indifferent. It was becoming obvious to all: there were major problems afoot with agriculture as it had been and was still being practiced.

Right about then, however, there was a great divide. One group followed a guy named Justus von Liebig, the father of the [chemical, NPK (Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorus)-based] fertilizer industry, the other listened to a guy named Albert Howard, a man often viewed as the father of organic agriculture.

Transfixed by von Liebig's prescient claim that organic and inorganic chemistry were really one and the same and that all the organic compounds one could find in nature would eventually be synthesized through human ingenuity, the von Liebig group pursued the idea (here expressed in a slightly over-simplified form, but really way too close to the truth for comfort) "that living things were only configurations of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. No microorganisms in the soil, no fungi, no molds—-just these three elements." [See my "'Weird' Science" posts #5 and #6 about microrganisms, fungi and molds in the soil!]

And the other group? Well, they quietly--and sometimes not so quietly; think of J.I. Rodale and Rodale Publishing--pursued their own path that sought to understand and utilize "the complexity of biological systems."

Where would we be today in world agriculture if a little event called World War II hadn't intervened and "focused unprecedented brainpower and economic investment on explosives, which interestingly, were primarily nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus"?

"America spared nothing to develop the chemistry, production and distribution for munitions," Salatin writes.
This simultaneous research and development favored the chemical approach. In short, the Pentagon paid for the ancillary and related innovation necessary to metabolize Liebig's NPK discovery and make it widely useful. By the end of the war, the huge and highly profitable munitions companies could take their development, paid for by the war effort, and unleash it on agriculture.
And the organic/biodynamic agriculturalists? They continued to plod along, without government subsidy, doing what they could to improve their understanding and their practices and methods.
It's as if in 1950, at the threshold of the industrial economy's golden age and with urbanization in full swing, farmers came to a one-mile track meet, a race to meet the burgeoning demand for food with fewer farmers. The race would be four laps around the track. One side started on the starting line. The chemical side started with a two-lap head start.
"Make no mistake," Salatin opines,
if we [I imagine he is talking about human beings in general] had had a Manhattan Project to capitalize on Howard and [André] Voisin, not only would we have fed the world during that time, but today we would not have a Rhode Island-size dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. We would not have lost half of Iowa's topsoil in a mere 100 years. We would not have degenerated the landscape with three-legged salamanders and infertile frogs.
Yes, organic/biodynamic agriculture has lagged chemical agriculture, Salatin agrees. But at this point, "our side has not only caught up with the chemical pushers, we're lapping them. We eco-farmers do not have to apologize for anything. We built the knowledge, developed the protocols, paid for the distribution when the USDA pooh-poohed everything we were doing."

Salatin comments about a common misconception many people have, that modern organic farming is, if you will, nothing more than returning to the ways of our agricultural forebears of 70 years ago and before. That idea, he says, is completely wrong.
If you visit any living history museum in the Western world set in a time period before 1950, you will not see a compost pile. Plymouth Rock, Williamsburg, the Museum of American Frontier Culture — none of them has a compost pile. Scientific aerobic composting developed and sprang onto the world stage from Sir Albert Howard's research in India from about 1920-1940.
"One of my pet peeves," he says, "is when people visit Polyface Farm and remark, 'This is like they used to do things. Like Grandpa's farm.'"
I have to bite my tongue sometimes. It is not like Grandpa's farm. He would have given his right arm to have the infrastructure and sophisticated diagnostic gadgets we have today.

In just ten minutes I can show visitors a dozen things that Grandpa could not have even conceived: computerized, dependable, 1-amp, 10,000-volt electric fence energizers; PTO-powered manure spreaders; hoop houses with UV-stabilized, laminated 15-year plastic; magnetically charged foliar sprays applied while stomata listen to calypso music and open wide for big gulps of biologically-enhanced nutrients; PTO-powered, hydraulically-fed three-point-hitch-mounted chippers that can handle an inch of wood per 10 horsepower; a real biomass accumulator. Wow! And power steering, four-wheel drive shuttle-shift diesel tractors with automatically leveled front-end loaders. Baby, I'm levitating.

Oh, don't forget 800-pound, 20-horsepower Honda-powered bandsaw mills cheaper than an old used car that puts any farmer in the self-sufficient lumber business. How about polyethylene, stainless-steel filament, built-in fiberglass post netting for poultry, sheep, goats and children. (That was just to see if you were awake.) Good gracious, folks, this farm is nothing like Grandpa's. Electric fence fault-finders and hand-held laser range-finders to pinpoint acreage and paddock allotments. . . .

Dear people, our side has not stood still since the 1920s. The advertisers in Acres U.S.A. and kindred publications have already solved the pathogen, erosion and fertility problems that the chemical Neanderthals (to use the late iconic Charles Walters' term) are still scratching their heads about. . . .
There's no need for shame, Salatin concludes. Yes, our side started slowly. But now we've caught up and are leaving them in the dust. . . .

Y'know, this is the first Joel Salatin article I have read. I knew of him from The Omnivore's Dilemma and Food, Inc., as I mentioned above. I have listened to one of his lectures from the Acres USA 2008 conference. But I am now motivated to read more of his works. The one title our daughter Amy has mentioned--and the one whose title particularly appeals to me--is Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front. I guess that will be finding its way to my reading pile soon!

Is your bank likely to fail?

I just came across this article about risky banks. It lists the riskiest ones--organized alphabetically by state.

I haven't heard too much about the current banking crisis. Nothing like the S&L crisis of the late '80s. Of course, that's because it is nowhere near as large . . . yet. (According to Wikipedia, "Between 1980 and 1994 more than 1,600 banks insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) were closed or received FDIC financial assistance." Meanwhile, "From 1986 to 1995, the number of federally insured savings and loans in the United States declined from 3,234 to 1,645." The "U.S. General Accounting Office estimated cost of the crisis to around USD $160.1 billion, about $124.6 billion of which was directly paid for by the U.S. government from 1986 to 1996." --By contrast, there have been all of just over 300 bank failures so far in the last three years--25 in 2008, 140 in 2009, and 149 so far in 2010, and the cost to the FDIC and/or federal government has been just under $60 billion.)

Still, it can't hurt to be aware of the risks you face. As the risky banks article--updated as of a week ago--notes,
In a typical year, a bank should expect to lose about 32 cents for every $100 it lends. Right now, however, banks are losing $2.64 on $100 in loans.

This problem is made worse by bank's deteriorating financial condition. At the beginning of 2007, banks had $1.80 in cash reserves for every dollar of loans that were past due. So even if all those loans went belly up -- and not all past-due loans will -- the banks were more than covered. Today, banks have only about 80 cents for every dollar of problem loans.
And, of course, that is banks in general.

So how can anyone tell if a bank is at risk of failing?
The FDIC does not release its problem loans list, it only says how many banks are on it. But using a special ratio that measures a bank's problem loans (the precursor to the loans that are eventually charged off), investors can determine with a high degree of accuracy whether their bank is safe.

It's called the "Texas ratio." It was developed by a financial wizard at RBC Capital Markets named Gerard Cassidy, who used it to correctly predict bank failures in Texas during the 1980s recession, and again in New England in the recession of the early 1990s.

The Texas ratio is determined by dividing the bank's non-performing assets by its tangible common equity and loan-loss reserves. Tangible common is equity capital less goodwill and intangibles. As the ratio approaches 1.0, the bank's risk of failure rises.

With only 3 exceptions, every bank that has failed in the second or third quarter has had a Texas ratio greater than 0.90.
There are an awful lot of banks with Texas ratios over 0.90! There are 94 with ratios over 2.00!

Check out the list and do a "Find" on your bank's name. "And if your bank has a high or even a higher-than-average Texas ratio, then for heaven's sake go in tomorrow and close your accounts. It's always best to get out of Dodge ahead of the posse."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

How are we to take that?

I was reading in 1 Corinthians 7 earlier this week:
I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. . . . But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. . . . Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. . . . Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) . . . So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. . . . This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

--1 Corinthians 7:7-12, 15, 17-18, 20-21, 24-27, 29-31 ESV

I've read this section several dozen times in my life, I'm sure. But this week, for the first time, I read it more literally, I think, than I have in the past. I focused less on the idea that one should feel no obligation either to marry or not marry and more on the reasoning for the advice (which is all about time frames) and the implications of the advice which . . . well, I'll let you tell me what you think they are.

It is because of the implications--at least as far as I can understand them--that I came up with this post's title: How are we to take that?

"The appointed time has grown very short," writes St. Paul in v. 29. "The present form of this world is passing away," he says in v. 32. THEREFORE,
  • "Let those who have wives live as though they had none."
  • Let "those who mourn [live] as though they were not mourning."
  • Let "those who rejoice [live] as though they were not rejoicing."
  • Let "those who buy [live] as though they had no goods."

  • Let "those who deal with the world [live] as though they had no dealings with it."
Hmmmm. Kinda reminds me of some of the apocalyptic fever that was running rampant through the United States back in the '70s when I was in high school and went off to college (The Late Great Planet Earth); and '80s (88 reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988]); and '90s and early '00s (the Left Behind series]); and so forth.

But what struck me the other day is the social implications of Paul's advice. --Suppose we were to attempt seriously to live the way he suggests?

Take his first recommendation: "Let those who have wives live as though they had none."

Think of the implications!
  • A lot (lot, lot!) more single people in the church.
  • No one--certainly no church leaders--recommending or urging young people to get married.
  • Instead of seminars on dating and marriage, we'd have seminars on (what?) . . . I'm not sure what. But they would be very different.
  • Biggest difference: Reproductive rates would be far below replacement levels (which are, currently, at about 2.1 babies per woman . . . just to maintain population; not to increase it).
There are a few groups that have pursued this kind of policy. And, to my understanding, most evangelical Christians soundly reject their practices.

I think of the Shakers. And celibate priests.

So how are we to take Paul's . . . ummmm . . . recommendations?

If we're not inclined to take them seriously or literally, how should we take them?

Well, then there is "Let . . . those who buy [live] as though they had no goods."

Hmmm. Communism. Or, at least, radical communalism.

Does that work?

Even the Pilgrims, to whom many Americans point as exemplars of godliness, failed during their first year in America to make communism/communalism/socialism work. As Gary North comments in his fascinating Puritan Economic Experiments, p. 6:
What is perhaps the Pilgrims’ second-best-known historical incident after the thanksgiving feast is the disastrous experiment with common ownership. Everyone was required to bring all that he had produced into the common storehouse, and to each family was rationed out the supplies deemed appropriate to its size. It was a classic experiment with the Communist principle announced by Karl Marx: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” It did not work.
North quotes Governor Bradford's History "Of Plimoth Plantation":
For this community [of property – G. N.] (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in the division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labors, and victuals, and clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it.
In sum: Paul's advice doesn't work . . . at least not for the long term.

You might see a policy or practice such as we read about in Acts 4:34-35 ("There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.") --You might see such a policy or practice work for a year or two or three.


If you begin with enough resources within the community. And those who have owned the resources in the past continue willing to give them up for the sake of the group.

But as a long-term social policy, this kind of practice has no legs. It doesn't work for five or ten years, much less two thousand years (as we are coming upon since the time Paul wrote).

So how are we to take him?

Was he serious?

Was he, perhaps, seriously mistaken? (For example: Is it possible he actually believed Jesus was about to return any day . . . but (obviously) He did not?)

Or is there some other way around the difficulties created by this passage?

As a matter of fact, there is a growing group of people who think they have discovered a way around this problem (and others).

Think of Matthew 24 where Jesus answers his disciples' question about "the sign of [Jesus'] coming and of the close of the age." Among a whole lot of "signs" Jesus tells them about, He also says, "Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (v. 34).

That generation--the generation to which Jesus was speaking--is long gone. And has "the close of the age" come?

"Ahh! But what He was meaning is the generation that is alive at the time the signs take place!" say typical evangelical apologists for typical evangelical eschatological ["end of the age," "end of the world," "end of history"] scenarios. That means He was speaking about a generation that was not yet present at the time He spoke.

No, say proponents of the view I'm talking about. He was, most definitely, talking about the generation that was alive at the time He was speaking to them. --Look at Matthew 16:27-28: "For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Or Matthew 10:23: "When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes." Or Matthew 23:36: "Truly, I say to you, [all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah] will come upon this generation." And so forth.

How much more clear could Jesus have been?

And Paul.

And other New Testament writers.

So what is the "solution" that this "growing group of people" I referenced suggest?

It goes by the name preterism. As you will find if you read the Wikipedia article to which I am linking you, there are two forms of preterism (surprised?): "full" and "partial."

I have to confess discomfort with certain implications of the view. But it does offer some grounds for thought.

A basic summary of what full preterism is about:
Preterism places the Biblical prophecies of intense evil and foreboding gloom in the first century, focusing on the events surrounding the forty-two-month long persecution of Christians by Nero, the forty-two-month long Jewish zealot war with Rome, and the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The word "preterist" is based on the Latin "praeteritus," meaning "gone by" or "past." The Princeton University Wordnet dictionary defines a Preterist as:
a theologian who believes that the Scripture prophecies of the Apocalypse (as in the Book of Revelations) have already been fulfilled
Preterism is also often referred to as Covenant Eschatology or Fulfilled Prophecy.
For some strong presentations in favor of preterism, see Jesus Predicted a First-Century Return and/or the FAQ page at Preterism.com. For an intriguing presentation that attacks the issue from a more holistic perspective (and this was the first source that first brought preterism onto my radar about five years ago), check out Tim Martin & Jeff Vaughn's Beyond Creation Science: New Covenant Creation from Genesis to Revelation . . . or visit their website.

[Postscript: In case you have a long memory. Yes, I did mention preterism in passing once before, a year and nine months ago. You can find what I wrote here. Obviously, this is not a deep interest of mine. But it does keep poking its head up every once in a while.]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

As if the federal government doesn't already have more than enough to do . . .

I've been listening to lectures from past Acres USA conferences (2007 and 2008) and have heard quite a bit about NAIS (National Animal Identification System--a federal program "intended to identify animals and track them as they come into contact with, or commingle with, animals other than herdmates from their premises of origin" but that actually places unbelievable financial and paperwork burdens on even backyard keepers of a few chickens, ducks, or goats (not to mention larger animals like horses, donkeys, cows or pigs).

According to the NAIS regulations, every property on which any such animals are kept is supposed to be registered with the federal government, and, then, unless the owner of such animals also owns and/or operates the meat or egg processing plant, every individual animal is also supposed to receive a unique, 15-character animal identification number which is to be attached directly to the animal itself. And--just as FedEx and UPS now track and report the movements of every item throughout their distribution systems, so the movements of every animal are supposed to be tracked and reported to the federal government.

NAIS was supposed to be "voluntary" (ha ha!), but with federal muscle behind it, Wisconsin, the first state to implement the regulations, made it absolutely mandatory. --Interestingly, the registration system, mandated by law, is "not maintained by state government, but instead relies upon the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium (WLIC) to maintain the database of Premises ID registrants. This is currently continuing with the RFID tagging database as well.[19] The WLIC is a private interest group made up of Big Agribusiness, including Cargill, Genetics/Biotech Corporations, like ABS Global, and RFID tagging companies such as Digital Angel[20]. . . . There are also in fact only 6 RFID tags that are approved by WLIC/NAIS at this time: 2 manufactured by Allflex, 2 by Digital Angel, one by Y-Tex and 1 by Global Animal Management. All four are WLIC members." (Wikipedia article on the National Animal Identification System.

Now we are told that, as of February 2010, NAIS was being abandoned in order to
re-focus its efforts on a "new framework" for animal traceability. The Secretary stated the new framework would apply only to animals that cross state lines and would encourage the use of low-tech methods of identification.

The USDA's announcement sparked widely divergent reactions. Groups representing independent farmers and local consumers applauded the USDA's decision. But the proponents of NAIS, namely the Big Ag and Big Tech groups, expressed disappointment and issued statements about the horrible things that could supposedly happen without a centralized ID system. These pro-NAIS entities quickly re-grouped and announced plans to adopt "model regulations" (i.e. NAIS-type regulations) at the State level.

But the issue is also still far from over even at the federal level. Despite USDA's announcement, Big Ag and Big Tech are pushing for a more expansive federal program. And key bureaucrats who developed NAIS continue to work within the agency, and they do not seem to have changed their views despite the announcements from the top.

--Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (F2CLDF)

Oh! But we haven't begun to discover how far the federal government is wanting to extend its grip into issues for which one would think the interstate commerce clause should limit its reach.

Now comes Senate Bill 510, due for a vote any day now. Possibly even today.

And what does SB510 have to say? Well, here's a rather calm review of some of its more egregious features.
  • It will "enable FDA potentially to regulate all farms marketing food products direct to consumers even if the farms engage only in intrastate commerce." --In other words, the local farmers who sell in your local farmer's market: They will be subject to federal oversight. Your neighbor who owns a few chickens and sells or gives you eggs: Such behavior will be subject to federal (FDA) oversight.

    If you think it’s a good idea to give FDA more power,
    • Here are the agency’s views on your freedom to obtain the foods of your choice; these are direct quotations from the agency’s response to a lawsuit the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (F2CLDF) filed earlier this year challenging the interstate ban on raw milk for human consumption:
      • "There is no absolute right to consume or feed children any particular food." [A--p. 25]
      • "There is no 'deeply rooted' historical tradition of unfettered access to foods of all kinds." [A--p. 26]
      • "Plaintiffs' assertion of a 'fundamental right to their own bodily and physical health, which includes what foods they do and do not choose to consume for themselves and their families' is similarly unavailing because plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to obtain any food they wish." [A--p. 26]
      • "There is no fundamental right to freedom of contract." [A--p. 27]
    • For those who think it is a good idea to give the FDA more power, here are some of the products FDA has allowed in the marketplace:
      • MSG (monosodium glutamate),
      • high fructose corn syrup (HFCS),
      • aspartame,
      • genetically-modified organisms (GMOs),
      • Avandia (prescribed for type 2 diabetes) and
      • Vioxx (arthritis pain medication).
      If none of these items alarms you, I guess I have not been doing my job! There is strong evidence of major human health problems related to each and every one of these substances. But the FDA has done nothing to protect us.

      Meanwhile, as reported here a few days ago, the FDA is standing in the way of full disclosure of health benefits of good foods like tart cherries and walnuts, claiming that any producer or distributor of such products who associates any health benefits to these items--even if the benefits are well-documented in peer-reviewed scientific papers--the producer/distributor is engaged in the illegal sale of an unapproved drug until it has submitted its specific cherries or walnuts (or whatever) to a costly FDA approval process. . . .

      And we are interested in permitting them more power?
Linn Cohen-Cole wrote a powerful post on an earlier (and less-egregious-than-it-is-now) version of the same bill:
Wisdom says stop a bill that is broad as everything yet more vague even than it is broad.

Wisdom says stop a bill that comes with massive penalties but allows no judicial review.

Wisdom says stop a bill with everything unspecified and actually waits til next year for an unspecified “Administrator” to decide what’s what.

Where we come from, that’s called a blank check. Who writes laws like that? ”Here, do what you want about whatever you want and here’s some deadly punishments to make it stick.”

Wisdom says know who wrote that bill and be forewarned.

Wisdom says wake up.

Here’s the bill. Let’s use our imaginations and extrapolate from the little bit it reveals and from the reality we know.


(a) Authorities- In carrying out the duties of the Administrator and the purposes of this Act, the Administrator shall have the authority, with respectto food production facilities, to–

(1) visit and inspect food production facilities in the United Statesand in foreign countries to determine if they are operating in compliance with the requirements of the food safety law;

(2) review food safety records as required to be kept by the Administrator under section 210 and for other food safety purposes;

(3) set good practice standards to protect the public and animal health and promote food safety;

(4) conduct monitoring and surveillance of animals, plants, products, or the environment, as appropriate;

(5) collect and maintain information relevant to public health andfarm practices.

(b) Inspection of Records-
A food production facility shall permit the Administrator upon presentation of appropriate credentials and at reasonable times and in a reasonable manner, to have access to and ability to copy all records maintained by or on behalf of such food production establishment in any format (including paper or electronic) and at any location, that are necessary to assist the Administrator–

(1) to determine whether the food is contaminated, adulterated, or otherwise not in compliance with the food safety law; or

(2) to track the food in commerce.

(c) Regulations- Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture and representatives of State departments of agriculture, shall promulgate regulations to establish science-based minimum standards for the safe production of food by food production facilities. Such regulations shall–

(1) consider all relevant hazards, including those occurring naturally,and those that may be unintentionally or intentionally introduced;

(2) require each food production facility to have a written food safety plan that describes the likely hazards and preventive controls implemented to address those hazards;

(3) include with respect to growing, harvesting, sorting, and storage operations, minimum standards related to fertilizer use, nutrients, hygiene, packaging, temperature controls, animal encroachment . . . and water;

Ah, such a little paragraph, and so much evil packed in it. Notice they mention harvesting, sorting and storage operations? Notice they never mention seeds? But they are precisely what those words cover.
Come again? What's that? Why this concern about seeds?

Because, Cohen-Cole says, that is exactly what these kinds of regulations are always about: maximizing profits for Big Ag (the Monsantos and Cargills of the world). [Interesting: That is what the F2CLDF also says: "[The] FDA’s true clients are not the American people but rather the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries."

But, but . . . wait a second! What do seeds have to do with Big Ag? And why this interest in seeds?

  • Watch where Monsanto is and has been going for the last 15 to 20 years, say the observers. Monsanto has been aiming for a monopoly on seed production worldwide. And they are getting closer than most of us would care to know!

Cohen-Cole writes:
When you know that Monsanto with the help of the US government plundered ancient and rare seed banks in Iraq that held seeds with a genetic heritage (a biohistory belonging to all of us) going back 1000s of years and then made it a crime for farmers there to collect or use their own normal and non-patented seeds off their own land, you see how extreme the intent to control is. . . .

The Iraqis are now utterly at the mercy of Monsanto and the US for survival itself and will have to pay whatever prices are set for food. They can no longer just grow their own and be free people. So, no matter what form of government they may ever have, as long as this is true, they are now enslaved because the control over them is that extreme. Kissinger was right – control food and you control people. . . .

In Afghanistan, people are buying and planting beans from America which at the end of the season have nothing whatever inside, the pods are empty. In Ecuador, the potatoes there do not develop eyes so can’t be planted next season to grow potatoes.

Biotech’s claim to care about feeding starving multitudes is belied by its blocking human access to normal seeds and its terminator technology (empty beans). Monopoly is monopoly is monopoly. And at this level, and when it comes to seeds which are life itself, monopoly terminates democracy as well as beans.
Please, read The World According to Monsanto by Marie-Monique Robin I told you about a few days ago.

"Watch how they will be able to easily criminalize seed banking and all holding of seeds," Cohen-Cole writes.
First, to follow how this will be done, you must understand that:

1. there is a small list inside the FDA called “sources of seed contamination” and

2. the FDA has now defined “seed” as food,

3. so seeds can now be controlled through “food safety.” . . .

Farmers, gardeners, seed saving exchanges, seed companies, scientific seed projects, and seed banks, all require sorting. All are working overtime to protect biodiversity that is rapidly disappearing specifically because of genetic engineering. As Monsanto began reducing access to seeds, people around the world have worked hard to compensate.

But now the effort is to take over the whole game, going after even these small sources of biodiversity – by simply defining seeds as food and . . . all farmers’ affordable mechanisms for harvesting (collecting), sorting (seed cleaning) and storing (seed banking or saving) as too dirty to be safe for food.

Set the standard for “food safety” and certification high enough that no one can afford it and punish anyone who tries to save seed in ways that have worked fine for thousands of years, with a million dollar a day fine and/or ten years in prison, and presto, you have just criminalized seed banking.

The penalties are tremendous, the better to protect us from nothing dangerous whatsoever, but to make monopoly over seed absolutely absolute. One is left with control over farmers, an end to seed exchanges, an end to organic seed companies, an end to university programs developing nice normal hybrids, and an end to democracy – reducing us to abject dependence on corporations for food and gratitude even for genetically engineered food and at any price. . . .

There are three other items of the list which surely will be controlled as well. In toto, that little list of six items (agricultural water, manure, harvesting, transporting and seed cleaning equipment, and seed storage facilities) contains the pieces to deconstruct farming itself, especially organic farming.
Oh, there is more, much more! Please take a look at the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund page about S510. As I said above, it is non-alarmist. But it ought to cause your hair to stand on end.

The article was written in September and concludes,
S510 is not about protecting the public health but rather about increasing federal control over food and transferring market share from the local food system to the industrial food system. The bill grants broad rulemaking power to FDA, a grant not merited by the agency’s track record. Its passage will cripple local food over time.

There have been reports in the media that S510 is dead. Don’t believe them. The bill could still be brought to the Senate floor before Congress’ pre-election break and it could also be brought up for a vote during a lameduck session after the elections.
Guess what? Cloture was passed yesterday. It is being voted on during the lameduck session. It is time to take action.

For more on the subject, see S510 Talking Points by Pete Kennedy, Esq.

And for a relatively easy method of figuring out how to communicate with your senators, go to the F2CLDF's Action Page.