The featured article is a rare gem that highlights the interrelatedness of humans with the environment, pointing out that most epidemics, such as AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, and Lyme disease, just to name a few, are a direct result of man’s failure to live in harmony with nature. By severely disrupting our environment, we create our own demise.
A project financed by the United States Agency for International Development has made its goal to determine the ecology of disease – a project that, if successful, will aid health officials in determining where the next disease outbreak may occur. While lack of food sources, water and sanitation play a key part in disease, they know that in developing countries disease also hinges heavily on the types of wildlife in an area, destruction of wildlife and forest areas, and the diseases and bacteria the wildlife may be carrying.
As reported by the New York Times:1
“There’s a term biologists and economists use these days – ecosystem services – which refers to the many ways nature supports the human endeavor. Forests filter the water we drink, for example, and birds and bees pollinate crops, both of which have substantial economic as well as biological value.
…By mapping encroachment into the forest you can predict where the next disease could emerge, So we’re going to the edge of villages, we’re going to places where mines have just opened up, areas where new roads are being built. We are going to talk to people who live within these zones and saying, ‘what you are doing is potentially a risk.'”
Our modern lifestyle has largely separated us from nature, and few stop to consider the immense impact environmental destruction has on our individual health. We simply cannot extricate ourselves from the symbiotic relationship we have with nature, and that includes both the environment and wildlife, big and small.
According to the featured article, some 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases in humans originate in the animal kingdom, and environmental destruction promotes this animal-to-human transfer of disease.
A new project called Predict, funded by the United States Agency for International Development, aims to determine where new diseases are likely to emerge, based on how the landscape is altered by human activities. The project will also study forest-, wildlife- and livestock management to prevent the spread of pandemic disease.
As the New York Times explains:
“The Nipah virus in South Asia, and the closely related Hendra virus in Australia, both in the genus of henipah viruses, are the most urgent examples of how disrupting an ecosystem can cause disease. The viruses originated with flying foxes, Pteropus vampyrus, also known as fruit bats…
[O]nce the virus breaks out of the bats and into species that haven’t evolved with it, a horror show can occur, as one did in 1999 in rural Malaysia.
It is likely that a bat dropped a piece of chewed fruit into a piggery in a forest. The pigs became infected with the virus, and amplified it, and it jumped to humans. It was startling in its lethality. Out of 276 people infected in Malaysia, 106 died, and many others suffered permanent and crippling neurological disorders.”
According to experts, the answer to preventing these kinds of pandemics lies in understanding how leaving nature intact can protect against the emergence of disease. For example, according to a study cited in the featured article, a four percent increase in deforestation in the Amazon increased malaria by nearly 50 percent! The reason for this non-linear increase in disease in response to cutting down of forest is because disease-spreading mosquitoes thrive in a mix of water and sunlight, which is in ample supply in deforested areas.
Lyme disease is another disease produced by man’s interference with nature. By reducing and fragmenting large swaths of forests, larger predators such as wolves, foxes, and hawks, for example, have been pushed out. As a result, certain kinds of mice that are the primary carriers of Lyme bacteria have been given free rein to multiply.
According to the New York Times:
“‘When we do things in an ecosystem that erode biodiversity – we chop forests into bits or replace habitat with agricultural fields – we tend to get rid of species that serve a protective role,’ [Lyme disease researcher] Dr. Ostfeld told me. ‘There are a few species that are reservoirs and a lot of species that are not. The ones we encourage are the ones that play reservoir roles.'”
In response to these findings, a worldwide program called the One Health Initiative2 launched a couple of years ago, involving a number of medical, veterinarian and agricultural organizations and federal agencies, along with more than 600 scientists and other professionals in both human and veterinary medicine. Its mission statement reads:
“Recognizing that human health (including mental health via the human-animal bond phenomenon), animal health, and ecosystem health are inextricably linked, One Health seeks to promote, improve, and defend the health and well-being of all species by enhancing cooperation and collaboration between physicians, veterinarians, other scientific health and environmental professionals and by promoting strengths in leadership and management to achieve these goals.”
Sustainability is at the heart of this holistic view. And the creation of such a global program comes not a moment too late, as the ever increasing spread of genetically engineered crops and plants now threatens sustainability everywhere.
Genetically Engineered Plants – One of the Most Dire Threats to Sustainability
As explained by Dr. Don Huber – an expert in soil-borne diseases, microbial ecology, host-parasite relationships, and GE toxicity – it’s essential to understand that agriculture is a complete system based on inter-related factors. In order to maintain ecological balance and health, you must understand how that system works as a whole. Any time you change one part of that system, you change the interaction of all the other components, because they work together.
It is simply impossible to change just one minor aspect without altering the entire system, and this is why genetically engineered crops pose such a dire threat not just to the environment, but also to wildlife, livestock, and humans, and do so in more ways than one.
Dr. Huber’s research, which spans over 55 years, has been devoted to looking at how the agricultural system can be managed for more effective crop production, better disease control, improved nutrition, and safety. The introduction of genetically engineered crops has dramatically affected and changed all agricultural components:
- The plants
- The physical environment
- The dynamics of the biological environment, and
- Pests and diseases (plant, animal, and human diseases)
Food Quality is Related to Soil Quality
One of the major modifications done to genetically engineered (GE) food crops is the introduction of herbicide resistance. Monsanto is the leader in this field, with their patented Roundup Ready corn, cotton, soybean and sugar beets, which can survive otherwise lethal doses of glyphosate – the active ingredient in Roundup.
The introduction of glyphosate-resistance has had a direct impact on soil microbes, which in turn decreases the food quality. While the link between an herbicide (which is directed toward plants) and soil microbes may not be immediately apparent, this ripple effect occurs because, again, it’s an inter-related system.
In a nutshell, herbicides are chelators that form a barrier around specific nutrients, preventing whatever life form is seeking to utilize that element from utilizing it properly. That applies both to plants and soil microbes – as well as animals and humans. This may actually be one of the primary reasons why genetically engineered foods appear to be able to cause such profound health problems in those who consume them. According to Dr. Huber, the nutritional efficiency of genetically engineered (GE) plants is profoundly compromised. Micronutrients such as iron, manganese and zinc can be reduced by as much as 80-90 percent in GE plants!
The quality of the food is almost always related to the quality of the soil. The most foundational and critical components of the soil are the microorganisms that thrive there – more so than the necessary nutrients, because it’s the microorganisms that allow the plants to utilize those nutrients.
According to Dr. Huber:
“The plant can only utilize certain [reduced] forms of all the nutrients… The way that it becomes reduced in the soil is through those beneficial microorganisms. We also have microorganisms for legumes like soybeans, alfalfa, peas, or any of the other legumes that can fix up to 75 percent of their actual nitrogen for protein in amino acid synthesis that actually comes from the air through the microorganisms in the soil.
Glyphosate is extremely toxic to all of those organisms. What we see with our continued use and abuse of this powerful weed killer is that it is also totally eliminating many of those organisms from the soil. We no longer have the same balance that we used to have.”
The result of this imbalance in soil organisms is disease – in plants, animals, and humans. As just one example, toxic botulism is now becoming a more common cause of death in dairy cows whereas such deaths used to be extremely rare. The reason it didn’t occur before was because beneficial organisms served as natural controls to keep the Clostridium botulinum in check. Glyphosate, and glyphosate-resistant crops decimate beneficial organisms not just in soil, but also in animal and human intestines. As a result, the Clostridium botulinum is allowed to proliferate in the animal’s intestines and produce lethal amounts of toxins.
Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth is… Some Food for Thought
As Dr. Huber states:
“When future historians come to write about our era they are not going to write about the tons of chemicals we did or didn’t apply. When it comes to glyphosate they are going to write about our willingness to sacrifice our children and to jeopardize our very existence by risking the sustainability of our agriculture; all based upon failed promises and flawed science. The only benefit is that it affects the bottom-line of a few companies. There’s no nutritional value.”
Unfortunately, due to lack of labeling, many Americans are still unfamiliar with what genetically engineered foods are. We now have a great opportunity to change that, and I urge you to participate and to continue supporting the California ballot initiative – which will require labeling of genetically engineered foods and food ingredients, and eliminate the routine industry practice of labeling and marketing such foods as “natural.”
The voting takes place in November. Remember, since California is the 8th largest economy in the world, a win for the California Initiative would be a huge step forward, and would likely affect ingredients and labeling nation-wide, as large companies are not likely going to label their products as genetically engineered when sold in California, but not when sold in other states. Doing so would be a PR disaster.
But it’s an enormous ongoing battle, as the biotech industry will outspend us by 100 to 1, if not more, for their propaganda. Needless to say, the campaign needs funds, as there are no deep corporate pockets funding this citizen’s initiative. So, please, if you have the ability, I strongly encourage you to make a donation.
Some good news: the California “Yes on 37” Right to Know campaign recently received the endorsement of the California Labor Federation and U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Mark Leno.
“Senator Boxer said, ‘California consumers have the right to know if their food has been genetically engineered. This basic information should be available for consumers on the label the way it is in 50 other countries around the world.’ The Digital Journal reported on July 27.3
State Senator Mark Leno said, ‘The people of California want to know what’s in their food. More than half the people in the world live in countries that already require labeling of genetically engineered foods. Californians deserve to have this information too.’
Steve Smith, Communications Director for the California Labor Federation, said, ‘Working people deserve the right to know what is in the food we are feeding our families. Prop 37 is a commonsense measure that ensures our families are able to make educated choices about the food we purchase. We’re proud to join with millions of Californians in supporting the right to know what’s in our food.'”
I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can. Be assured that what happens in California will affect the remainder of the U.S. states, so please support this important state initiative, even if you do not live there!
- Join the CA RightToKnow campaign, and tell everyone you know in California to vote YES on Proposition 37.
- Whether you live in California or not, please donate money to this historic effort through the Organic Consumers Fund.
- Talk to organic producers and stores and ask them to actively support Proposition 37. It may be the only chance we have to label genetically engineered foods.