A Day in the Life – Food, E Coli and GM Crops

Just now I am working on a number of modules for a course I may or may not teach in the future on holistic thinking, transition consciousness and sustainability. The module I am working on is called “A Day in the Life of” and was inspired by my recent reading of the book “From Cradle to Cradle” on how to develop truly sustainable products. The book teaches us just how toxic our lives our, how many toxic chemicals pervade our everyday lives, and what we can do to live in a more natural and harmonious manner, developing products and manufacturing processes that rid us of the need to be so destructive, wasteful and harmful.

In this module, I would present a series of slides talking about the activities we do in a typical day, and look at where in these scenarios all the toxins are, many of which are carcinogenic.

Obviously food will feature, and so I wanted to make a couple of observations, based on two current news stories.

The first is the ecoli breakout. The Telegraph provides a pretty standard “mainstream” view on this story:

Scientists believe the strain originated in animals such as cattle before spreading to vegetables. The HPA is advising people travelling to Germany to wash salads and to avoid eating raw tomatoes, cucumbers and leafy salads.

Tesco yesterday said it has “small quantities” of cauliflower, cabbage and sweetcorn from Germany in its stores, adding that its suppliers observe the “strictest hygiene standards”. Lidl said it stocks cauliflower from Germany.

However, NaturalNews.com has a different take on the matter:

Of course, virtually every report you’ll read on this in the mainstream media has the facts wrong. This isn’t about cucumbers being dangerous, because e.coli does not grow on cucumbers. E.coli is an intestinal strain of bacteria that only grows inside the guts of animals (and people). Thus, the source of all this e.coli is ANIMAL, not vegetable.

But the media won’t admit that. Because the whole agenda here is to kill your vegetables but protect the atrocious practices of the factory animal meat industries. The FDA, in particular, loves all these outbreaks because it gives them more moral authority to clamp down on gardens and farms. They’ve been trying to irradiate and fumigate fresh veggies in the USA for years.

We do not really need any sophisticated systems thinking in this instance, it is more a case of making one intervention and not predicting the true effects further down the causal chain:

Factory animal farm operations, you see, raise cattle, pigs and chickens in such atrociously bad and dirty conditions that they have to pump them full of antibiotics just to avoid the rapid spread of infection. This constant dosing with antibiotics creates the perfect breeding ground for superbugs in the guts of these animals.

Then, these animals defecate and drop billions of e.coli bacteria with their stools which are then collected and used as crop fertilizers. So the crops are actually grown in this stuff that’s contaminated with animal fecal matter containing antibiotics-induced superbugs.

The veggies grown in the e.coli fertilizer then get shipped to supermarkets, where people buy the produce and fail to wash it properly. Once they consume it, the e.coli goes to work in their own guts which are largely devoid of friendly flora because many people are also on antibiotics which wipe out their own intestinal flora, creating a perfect environment for food borne infection.

And now let’s move on to an ever controversial subject of GM crops. Here is the introduction to a recent article in India’s The Telegraph:

New Delhi, June 2: Indian scientists have discovered that the genetic modification of plants with a gene already used in crops worldwide may severely damage the plants, a surprising finding that may stir a debate on current crop biotechnology science.

The scientists at the University of Delhi have shown that inserting a bacterial gene that makes a protein named Cry1Ac into genomes of plants appears to cause developmental defects, growth retardation and sterility in the plants.

Several experimental and commercial genetically-modified plants, including GM cotton cultivated in India and other countries, make the Cry1Ac protein which is toxic to some insects. The insects die when they try to eat parts of these GM crops.

The Delhi scientists have now shown through laboratory experiments that modifying cotton or tobacco with Cry1Ac has a detrimental effect on these plants. Their results have appeared in the Journal of Bioscience published this month by the Indian Academy of Sciences.

“This is a completely unexpected finding,” said Durgadas Kasbekar, a senior biologist with the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad who was not associated with the study, but is the editor of the Journal of Bioscience.

“Until this point, if you asked someone in the plant biotechnology community what the Cry1Ac toxin does in plants, they would say it kills insects. No one has yet demonstrated harm to plants as this study has done,” Kasbekar told The Telegraph.

It is not so much the scientists’ inability to predict a negative outcome from a complex intervention, it is the rather disturbing lack of insight as to the wisdom or otherwise of creating crops which indiscriminately kill insects. We know that the bee population of the planet is rapidly dying, and have we not here a plausible cause? It is at least worthy of investigation.

So yes, just two examples of how our interventions in the natural world, in our desire to control nature, are coming back to haunt us. Time for a rethink I think.

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