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30 July 2011

Bees: An Essential Part of Our Food System

Ms Bee, Lacking a Horse, Pollinates a Borage Plant
A recent LA Times article detailed the death of a horse and the owner being severely stung by bees has drawn enough attention to warrant a reply.

The reason such a story becomes news is that it is uncommon. For some reason, unclear in the story, the bees attacked this man and his horse. It was doubtful that the attack was unprovoked and, because the man has a reason to not disclose anything he might have done to provoke the attack, we may never know the truth. But, from my personal experience of working with hives of bees and the many years of experience with bees by the people I associate with and our collective memory, we, to a person, allow that this is not consistent with the way we know bees to behave without some serious provocation. Because most Americans simply regard bees as something to be feared and really know very little about them, even preposterous stories about their behavior invoke no intelligent scrutiny.

But, OK. So the bees got pissed off – we don't know why – and they stung the horse to death and sent the owner off to the emergency room. This is only 'news' because it is rare. A horse killed on the freeway would be rare too, but a man sent to the ER because of injuries sustained on the freeway wouldn't be such a big deal – it wouldn't eve make a back page entry in the LA Times on a slow news day.

Bees are wild critters and they will attack anyone deemed to be threatening their hive. That's what they do. Our reaction to bees is, sadly, overwhelmingly based in fear born of ignorance. A healthy respect for all forms of life is imperative when dealing with the various forms of life we encounter – the more a person knows about bees, bears, wolves, or any form of wildlife, the better a person can deal with it and usually the more appreciation they will have for whatever species we have in mind.

My interactions with bees have been almost always positive. I have had two run-ins where I screwed up (both times) and got stung. I do not blame the bees. Each bee that stung me lost her life (all honey bees with stingers are female and the action of stinging disembowels her) and she lost her life protecting her hive with determination and skill. My work with bees has taught me so much about myself and has shown me some of my faults. I have come to admire these wonderful, essential creatures. The bees and the hive are like two living entities – as much as the cells in my body and two different entities – and the cell cannot live without the rest of the body, but the body needs a minimum number of cells to survive. So it is with the hive.

Most, if not all, hype that pumps up the fear about bees and other wild creatures is conscious fear mongering by those who profit from our fears. I have heard interviews with pest control companies where the president of one company vehemently admonished the radio personality to “very afraid of Africanized honey bees.” The purpose of which was nothing more than to drive listeners to the telephone to call his company every time any bee showed up at their property. After all, who can tell if it's an African bee or a European bee – I mean, I haven't been able to check passports on them. The intention was to frighten people to get ALL bees sprayed.

Never mind that the honey bee is in crises and lack of honey bees will severely impact our food supply. Honey bees have been dying at an alarming rate that has already impacted some crops and threatens shortages of many more. One of every third bite we eat comes to us through the pollinating efforts of honey bees. Mind you, there are other pollinators, and it is increasingly evident we will have to employ them in greater numbers while the honey bee populations plummet, but the honey bee has been the revered pollinator of choice for over a century because we have learned how to work with them and they have proven to be reliable partners even when we have abused them.

It appears to me that the survival of the honey bee is dependent on finding refuge in our cities. Our government has no backbone to contest the chemical and GMO farming lobby, so the honey bee is almost certainly doomed in our farmlands. In the city, where GMOs are not raised and pesticide application is confined mostly to lawns (is that sick or what?), honey bees stand a chance to become viable again. Actions taken by brazen law-breakers like Backwards Beekeepers are probably the greatest hope to keep viable populations of honey bees alive.

Got bees? Do not kill them! Contact a person who will keep them and insure those bees survive to breed more bees. Our way of life is dependent on the honey bee and her pollination of crops from apples to zucchini. Let's not take almonds, peaches, apricots, plums and many other fruits and vegetables away from the children of the future by compromising the honey bee's numbers to not be of service to mankind. Let's legalize beekeeping in all our cities and let's learn about the bees and be of service to them as well.

19 July 2011

Monsanto News Round Up...

A non-GMO tomato destined to be a Greek salad in a minute or two.
On Facebook, via the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF),  there is the news of the Good Food Awards, something we believe is important, because good, edible food is probably one of the most important allies we have in our fight to preserve old varieties of seeds and against Monsanto and agri-biz.  Mass produced stuff will never come close to clean, local food in winning the stomachs and taste buds of people.  The more people who are exposed to wholesome food, the more folks who are willing to stand with us and pay a little more for the food that is healthier and less destructive to the planet.  

The ground swell against genetically modified organisms (GMO's) seems to be growing world wide, even as the United States government rolls over and plays dead doing anything about GMO regulation. Farmers in Hungary are caught in the middle with their crops being plowed under because they planted GMO corn. We hope something will mitigate the destruction of their crops and income, but we applaud Hungary for taking a stand against the evils of GMO plants that are wind pollinated.  

The United States Department of Agriculture head,Tom Vilsak, a former employee of Monsanto, on the other hand has all but abdicated any consumer or environmental protection according to what we read today. This is especially hard to take in an administration that many of us had assumed would be less GMO friendly and more environmentally conscious.  The approval of GMO alfalfa almost certainly means that non-GMO cattle are going to become much more difficult to grow, putting GMO's in our meats and milk products, because the GMO pollen will infect adjacent fields, the same way GMO corn spreads its pollen far and wide. 
Monsanto has lied repeatedly about pollen spreading out of the fields planted with GMO corn - their estimates as to how far corn pollen can spread have been mere wishes in the heads of accountants, there was no corroborating evidence to back it up and current studies have proven that pollen contamination is a reality.  A reality that we can't turn back.  We will all eat GMO corn from the grocery stores for decades to come even if GMO corn is permanently pulled from the farmers fields today.  If you buy prepared foods from any supermarket, including the likes of Whole Foods, you will find it is created using GMO corn and soybeans.  If you read 'corn' or 'soy' on the package, simply know it is GMO - we don't get the luxury of choosing because marking 'GMO' or 'non-GMO' on a package isn't legal and if it is from a chain store, there is not enough non-GMO corn and soy being produced to be used consistently across their distribution.

A paper in the AgBio Forum postulates:  "Another aspect of the GM debate concerns implications of GM pollen drift. Pollen drift takes place when the pollen (and, subsequently, genes) of one plant is transported, via wind, water, sun, or pollinators such as honey bees, to another plant (Dafni, Kevan, & Husband, 2005). Although pollen drift often occurs in nature and plants have been swapping genes for centuries, it has become a matter of concern in the GM/non-GM crop debate because this type of genetic transfer can lead to "introduction into ecosystems of genes that confer novel fitness-related traits…[and] also allows novel genes to be introduced into many diverse types of crops, each with its own specific potential to outcross" (Snow, 2002, p. 542). Results from this could range from minor to catastrophic and could potentially have major impacts on (a) agriculture, such as the elimination of non-GM seeds from the seed stock; (b) health, if mingling occurs unwitting ingestion of allergens could transpire, and; (c) the economy, since there may be fiscal or legal liabilities associated with selling incorrectly labeled products."

Of course, we believe that this GMO experiment will fall of its own weight - the problem is, how much of a disaster will that be when it does happen?  
There are several reasons to believe that it will be a disaster, not the least is the results of the Green Revolution which was always seen as some massive success; a film on the continuing legacy of that disaster is available here.  The problem is how measure success - and when.  If one looks into the data for the years when the Green Revolution was initiated, the success is so overwhelming that we should be able to rejoice that hunger was solved for all time - of course, we know that isn't the case.  The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides was so overwhelming that farmers laden with new hybrids could not afford these inputs and the loss of diverse plantings of their own local foodcrops (because FAO was only measuring output in commercial crops, crops that could be commodities on the world market, not crops that could actually be eaten by the farmer or traded in the local market) destroyed the local agriculture.  The result is that after a five year window, production is not only nothing near the levels we were led to believe, but the lives of the farmers are compromised.  We took independent farmers and made them slaves to the same system that is bankrupting our farmers (and has for centuries), giving rise to the lie that you have to 'get big or get out.'  The truth is a small farm (or garden) is much more productive per acre than a big farm! (Sourced from Robert Rodale's "Save Three Lives" which should be required reading for anyone interested in solving world hunger.)

Monsanto has proven, secondly, that they are one of the world's biggest and most unfair bullies.  The cases against many farmers are a matter of record at this point and are far too numerous to discount.  (I heard some Monsanto apologist deride Percy Schmeiser as being a 'scumbag,' and you can say that about an individual farmers, but after a point, how many farmers are scumbags and who's pointing at whom?  For the record, I heard Mr. Schmeiser speak once and found him humble and sincere - if he is as bad as Monsanto wishes he were, he deserves an Emmy or something.)  There are too many farmers sued or hushed up to take this lightly; Monsanto seems to follow the Church of Scientology's lead on pro-active suing of nay-sayers.  Now the Securities Exchange Commission has begun an investigation, of course an investigation proves nothing until the verdict is made.  Still, if their past is any indication, Monsanto's own ruthlessness may come home to roost.

Thirdly, the health implications to humans of GMO technology has not been investigated let alone proven one way or another. There are NO long term studies on any aspect of GMO pollution in our bodies or our world.  One has to suspect a supposed 'wonderful new technology' that has yet to be vetted in any way long term.  If our fears are unfounded, then allow long term testing to go forward FIRST and prove us wrong! 

And finally, GMOs are just plain wrong.  Even if you can find ways to wiggle out of the environmental damage they will surely create (see the BioAg paper above), they will fail because they can't do what they claim they can do. Already reports are in about failed harvests, harvests that fail to attain anything close to parity with existing crops  and now the new super weeds have arrived on the scene - weeds that are immune to Monsanto's RoundUp and that spells doom and gloom for this current formulation.  Monsanto's scientists are already working on RoundUp Two, or RoundUp 2012 or whatever they will call it, but it doesn't take an agronomist to see the futility of this conundrum; better herbicides equal better weeds and that's all, with ever increasing pollution and ever increasing questionable health out-comes for the planet and those eating the products of these seeds.  

It's apparent our government will not do anything constructive to at least gain us some sort of testing of this technology before foisting it on us.  The things we CAN do are limited, and imperfect at best, but we need to try to eat as little of this stuff as possible.  That means limiting our eating out to a very small select eateries that buy from small farmers that avoid GMO seeds and eating mostly from our own gardens and the gardens of our friends.  That, of course, means, we have to grow gardens - larger gardens and learn to garden for most of our own calories.  OK, so we can't do that today?  Move in that direction and keep moving in that direction.  Learn how to save seeds so we preserve the heritage seeds of the past that are free of GMO technology and will reproduce in your garden.  Gardening this way is the way we preserve a future and is the surest way to strike back - it's a duty to the generations behind us and it's revolutionary.  

We all need to eat.  I think I'm making myself a Greek salad - GMO free!


02 July 2011

Time To Kiss My Amazon Goodbye...

Dear Amazon,

I think you goofed badly. I don't know of any business model that suggests you terminate your very large sales force that worked hard for you for practically nothing and give them over to your competitors to work against you. And it's a sad thing because many of us were not wanting to switch, we wanted to keep working for you for next to nothing.

But you forced our hands.

The loser in the tax standoff with my state of California is you, Amazon. Because I'm going to move EVERYTHING to Barnes and Noble - not just my referrals, but my wish list and my gift list and all of my business because having one bookstore simplifies my busy life and I don't need anything more complicated. Besides, Amazon, I think it's more than fair that you collect the tax and forward it to my state which is in some financial difficulty - you might have heard about this in the news.  I personally believe we should pay our taxes and I believe the country we call the 'best in the world' must be paid for - it is as good as it is because someone paid taxes as much as someone fought in a war.  It is more patriotic to pay taxes than it is to wave the flag or suck down beers while watching fireworks.  For this and many other reasons, Amazon, you are on the wrong side of history and the shady side of 'right.'

And sooner or later, Amazon, you WILL be collecting sales tax for each state and it won't be nearly as onerous as you claim today, but when that happens, I'll be happy with the Barnes and Nobel interface and I'll not want to come back to you and relearn how to do things your way.

I'm sure I'm not alone. I think you have done one of the most idiotic things a business can do; give thousands of devoted customers to your competitors - customers that have proven they read and they read a lot, customers that are willing to suggest others to go to your site and buy books (or whatever) from you. And, you collect sales tax on purchases for some of the 'stores' inside your corporate umbrella - so you know how to do it and it's not the big smelly dead fish you want us to believe it is.

So, Amazon, I don't get it. You've pissed me off enough to set up my account with Barnes and Nobel - in the coming days, I'll remove my wish lists and all the other bonds I've had with you since 1998. And it'll be goodbye. No more boxes in my mail from you. It's a very sad day for me.

But I'm sure me and my new bookstore will soon understand each other and in a few months, I'll be well on my way to building a twenty year relationship with them and not you.

You see how stupid you were?


Garden Rant agrees with me, read Amy Stewart's response to a similar letter.

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