Monsanto Throws GMO Victory Party in California
After a deluge of allegedly misleading advertisements paid for in large part by pesticide and biotechnology corporations, California voters defeated Proposition 37, which would have given them the right–to-know whether the foods they buy at the grocery store contain genetically engineered organisms. (GMOs).
With 95 percent of the vote counted, according to the California Secretary of State’s office, the proposal was defeated 53-47 percent.
“Genetically engineered foods found on market shelves have most commonly been altered in a lab to either be resistant to being sprayed by large amounts of toxic herbicides, or to produce, internally, their own insecticide,” explains Mark A. Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute.
“Corporations that produce both the genetically engineered crops and their designer pesticides, in concert with the multi-billion-dollar food manufacturers that use these ingredients, fought this measure tooth and nail, throwing $46 million at the effort that would have required food manufacturers to include informational labeling on GMO content on their packaging,” Kastel added.
Many food activists nationwide looked to the California initiative as “the last best hope” for GMO labeling in this country. Such labeling is required throughout Europe, and by scores other countries worldwide. In the U.S., polls indicate that more than 90 percent of citizens support labeling and the right to choose if they have not been deluged by misleading advertisements paid for by biotechnology corporations. But both Republicans and Democrats in Washington have been unwilling to address the issue, likely due to massive campaign contributions from the biotechnology and agribusiness lobbies.
The failure of Proposition 37 does not leave consumers completely in the dark about genetically engineered (GE) foods, since foods without GE ingredients are already widely available and clearly carry the USDA “organic” seal. Federal law prohibits the use of GE seed or ingredients in any product labeled “organic.”
In some ways, the “organic” label goes much further than what Proposition 37 would have required, since organic meat, milk and eggs must come from animals that were not treated with GE hormones and fed a diet that is free of GE ingredients. Proposition 37 would not have required labels on meat, milk and eggs from animals given GMO feed. Alcoholic beverages were also not covered under proposition 37. Organically labeled beer, wine and spirits are increasingly available in the marketplace.
“Organic foods are already required by federal law to be free from genetic engineering,” says Steven Sprinkel, an organic farmer in Ojai, California who fought for prop 37 passage. “And the icing on the organic cake is that certified organic foods are also grown without a long list of dangerous and toxic chemicals and pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and other drugs that are routinely used in conventional agriculture.”
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Despite its defeat, Proposition 37 achieved at least one of its goals. The question on the ballot, which forced biotechnology corporations and food manufacturers to defend their experimentation with our food supply and with public health, has likely increased awareness about GE foods among California consumers.
The biotechnology and food manufacturing industry’s efforts to defeat Proposition 37 revealed just how terrified these corporations were of consumers knowing what they are eating.
“If corporations truly believed that genetically engineering our food supply is in society’s best interest, they should be happy for consumers to know which foods contain their genetically engineered materials,” says Cornucopia’s Kastel. “Their obvious fear of people knowing what they’re eating raises serious questions about their products’ safety, and more and more consumers are making that connection.”
The campaign to label genetically engineered foods also shed light on the dedication to organic principles, or lack thereof, by the corporate ownership of many iconic organic brands. For weeks, organic consumers have flooded consumer relations phone lines and Facebook pages of organic and “natural” brands such as Horizon Organic (Dean Foods), Silk (Dean Foods), Kashi (Kellogg) and Cascadian Farm (General Mills) when they learned that the corporate owners of these brands were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat Proposition 37.
In what turned out to be a David and Goliath campaign fight, a diversified group of independent food manufacturers, retailers and activists that espouse their commitment to the principles of sustainable agriculture and to producing healthy, wholesome and pure food, stepped up to the plate by making contributions to the “Yes on 37” campaign.
Consumers can view a scorecard illustrating the financial contributions of various organic brands. “We hope this information will empower consumers to vote in the marketplace and support the true heroes in this industry,” Kastel added.
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Meanwhile, some corporations that should have stepped up to the plate gave token contributions at the eleventh hour. Whole Foods, a corporation with net sales as high as Monsanto’s—both have approximately $11 billion in annual sales—contributed a mere $25,000, just two business days before the election, Cornucopia noted in its research. On the other hand, Monsanto contributed $8,113,000 to the “No on 37″ campaign effort.
“Had we seen the same level of enthusiasm for consumers’ right-to-know from Whole Foods as we saw against the right-to-know from Monsanto, the playing field would have been more level, and the misleading information spewed by giant corporate agribusinesses would quite possibly not have prevailed on election day,” said Kastel. “Meaningful participation from Whole Foods could have been a game changer.”
Cornucopia encourages organic consumers who shop at Whole Foods to continue doing so. Rather than boycott the multi-billion-dollar corporate food retailer, Cornucopia encourages Whole Foods shoppers to write corporation leadership, through their website, and share their discontent with the major retailer’s unwillingness to fully step up to the plate on financially supporting the “Yes on 37” campaign.
In its annual report for shareholders, Whole Foods writes, “We walk our talk when it comes to our core values.” Whole Foods shareholders should be concerned with the corporation’s lackluster participation in this “food fight of the decade,” when they passed up an opportunity to walk their talk and refused to step up to the plate in terms of financial support for this grassroots effort. “It will remain to be seen whether Whole Foods has squandered some of their goodwill,” Kastel lamented.
Many consumers who do feel betrayed might seek out one of the country’s almost 300 member-owned co-ops, or one of the iconic independent natural food grocers for purchases of organic, non-GMO food.
Visit EcoWatch’s GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM page for more related news on this topic.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
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Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.
The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.
If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.
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