The UK-based Independent online newspaper recently published an article about a potential link between air pollution from vehicles and glaucoma. It stated that according to a new study air pollution is linked to the eye condition that causes blindness.
The report explained that researchers had looked at vision tests carried out on more than 111,000 people across Britain between 2006 and 2010 and cross-referenced results against levels of air pollution in their neighbourhoods. Those living in areas with higher amounts of fine particulate matter were at least 6% more likely to have glaucoma than those in the least polluted areas.
Glaucoma affects half a million people in the UK and can cause blindness if left untreated. However, the study cited by The Independent, published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, was unable to prove that air pollution was a trigger.
Following the article, environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason put together a 20-page report on glyphosate and has sent it out to key public health officials and media outlets, including The Independent’s editor. In her report, she states that the European Chemicals Agency classifies glyphosate as a substance that causes serious eye damage and is toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects. But she claims that the media still remains silent on the matter. Even in UK towns and cities, glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide is still being sprayed on weeds and super-weeds which have become Roundup-resistant.
Mason implores The Independent and other mainstream media outlets to write with honesty about the use and harmful effects of glyphosate-based weedicides and other agrochemicals. She quotes the UN expert on Toxics, Baskut Tuncak, who in 2017 urged the EU to put children’s health before pesticides. Children form the most vulnerable part of the population as pesticides can adversely affect their development.
Offering insight into the incidence of cataracts in England, Mason notes that annual rates of admission for cataract surgery rose 10‐fold from 1968 to 2004: from 62 episodes per 100,000 population to 637. A 2016 study by the WHO also confirmed that the incidence of cataracts had greatly increased: in ‘A global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks’ it says that cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Globally, cataracts are responsible for 51% of blindness. An estimated 20 million individuals suffer from this degenerative eye disease.
In Wales, where Mason resides, 35,000 patients are at risk of going blind from macular degeneration and glaucoma while on the NHS waiting list. All the municipal councils in Wales use glyphosate-based herbicides. Glyphosate now accounts for about 50% of all herbicide use in the US. About 75% of glyphosate use has occurred since 2006, with the global glyphosate market projected to reach $11.74 billion by 2023.
Figures for the use of glyphosate in the UK show a similar trend, which Mason has documented in her many reports. And let us not forget at this point that the current Conservative government regards Brexit as an ideal opportunity to usher in crops that have been genetically engineered to withstand the application of glyphosate or similar chemicals. The agrochemicals sector stands in the wings salivating at the prospect. This has nothing to do with boosting yields or ‘feeding the world’ as Boris Johnson asserts (claims which fail to stand up to scrutiny) but has everything to do with facilitating industry ambitions.
Never in history has a chemical been used so pervasively. Glyphosate is in our air, water, plants, animals, grains, vegetables and meats. It’s in beer and wine, children’s breakfast cereal and snack bars and mother’s breast milk. It’s even in our vaccines.
Of course, the power of the pesticides companies has been well noted. In 2017, global agrochemical corporations were severely criticised by UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver. A report presented to the UN human rights council accused them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions.”
The report authored by Hilal Elver and Baskut Tuncak says pesticides have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole”, including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning. Its authors said: “It is time to create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production.”
Hilal Elver says:
Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), we are able to feed nine billion people today. Production is definitely increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution.
Elver said many of the pesticides are used on commodity crops, such as palm oil and soy, not the food needed by the world’s hungry people:
The corporations are not dealing with world hunger; they are dealing with more agricultural activity on large scales.
Mason notes that chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to a range of diseases and conditions and that certain pesticides can persist in the environment for decades and pose a threat to the entire ecological system on which food production depends. The excessive use of pesticides contaminates soil and water sources, causing loss of biodiversity and destroying the natural enemies of pests. The impact of such overuse also imposes staggering costs on national economies. Moreover, the use of neonicotinoid pesticides is particularly worrying because they are linked to a systematic collapse in the number of bees around the world. Some 71% of crop species are bee pollinated.
Mason goes on to describe the various lawsuits in the US against Bayer (which bought Monsanto) and the tactics used by Monsanto to conceal glyphosate-based Roundup’s carcinogenicity, including capturing regulatory agencies, corrupting public officials, bribing scientists and engaging in scientific fraud to delay its day of reckoning.
Following the court decision to award in favour of Dewayne Johnson, attorney Robert Kennedy Jr said the following at the post-trial press conference:
… you not only see many people injured, but you also see a subversion of democracy. You see the corruption of public officials, the capture of agencies that are supposed to protect us all from pollution. The agencies become captured by the industries they are supposed to regulate. The corruption of science, the falsification of science, and we saw all those things happen here. This is a company (Monsanto) that used all of the plays in the playbook developed over 60 years by the tobacco industry to escape the consequences of killing one of every five of its customers… Monsanto… has used those strategies…
There is now also a good deal of scientific evidence linking glyphosate to obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease and brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts. Strong science suggests glyphosate is the culprit in the exploding epidemics of celiac disease, colitis, gluten sensitivities, diabetes and non-alcoholic liver cancer which, for the first time, is attacking children as young as 10. Researchers also peg glyphosate as a potent endocrine disruptor, which interferes with sexual development in children.
The compound is also a chelator that removes important minerals from the body, including iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium and molybdenum. Roundup disrupts the microbiome destroying beneficial bacteria in the human gut and triggering brain inflammation and other ill effects.
Neurotransmitter changes in the brain have been detected due to exposure to glyphosate. This is why, according to Mason, there are so many mental health and psychiatric disorders, depression, suicides, anxiety and violence among children and adults. It is even found in popular breakfast cereals marketed for UK children.
And this says nothing about the cocktail of pesticides sprayed on crops. The Soil Association and PAN UK have indicated that exposure to mixtures of pesticides commonly found in UK food, water and soil may be harming the health of both humans and wildlife. A quarter of all food and over a third of fruit and vegetables consumed in the UK contain pesticide cocktails, with some items containing traces of up to 14 different pesticides.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment has identified the rights threatened by environmental harm, including the rights to life, health, food and water and has mapped obligations to protect against such harm from private actors. In effect, where pesticides are concerned, the public are being denied the right to a healthy environment.
But it’s not just the powerful pesticides lobby that is to blame here. Rosemary Mason says the British public (and indeed people across the world) have a right to information. However, she concludes that the public have been denied this because mainstream media outlets have on the whole for too long opted to remain silent on the pesticides issue.
Newly released pesticide usage statistics for 2018 confirm that the British people are being used as lab rats. That’s the message environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has sent to Dave Bench, senior scientist at the UK Chemicals, Health and Safety Executive and director of the agency’s EU exit plan. In her open letter to Bench, Mason warns that things could get much worse.
In 2016, the UK farming minister said that the nation could develop a more flexible approach to environmental protection free of “spirit-crushing” Brussels directives if it votes to leave the EU. George Eustice, the minister in question, said that the EU’s precautionary principle needed to be reformed in favour of a US-style ‘risk-based’ system that would allow for faster approvals.
There is little doubt that Eustice had GM crops in mind: the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says that the most promising crops suitable for introducing to England would be Roundup Ready GA21 glyphosate-tolerant crops as they synergise well with herbicides already widely used in the UK.
Similarly, Boris Johnson said in his first speech as prime minister in July 2019:
Let’s start now to liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules and let’s develop the blight-resistant crops that will feed the world.
However, the ‘GM will feed the world mantra’ is pure industry spin. The technology has a questionable record and, anyhow, there is already enough food being produced to feed the global population, yet around 830 million are classed as hungry and two billion experience micronutrient deficiency. If Johnson wants to ‘feed the world’, he would do better by looking of the inbuilt injustices of the global food regime which is driven by the very corporations he seems to be in bed with.
Conservative politicians’ positive spin about GM is little more than an attempt to justify a post-Brexit trade deal with Washington that will effectively incorporate the UK into the US’s regulatory food regime. The type of ‘liberation’ Johnson really means is the UK adopting unassessed GM crops, using more glyphosate (or similar agrochemicals) and a gutting of food safety and environmental standards. It is no secret that various Conservative-led administrations have wanted to ditch the EU regulatory framework on GM for some time.
Unregulated chemical cocktail
Mason asks Bench why Defra and the Chemicals Regulation Division refuse to ban glyphosate-based herbicides in Swansea between 2014-2017 when she told them that it was poisoning her nature reserve:
Analysis of local tap water in August 2014 revealed a 10-fold increase since August 2013: from 30 ppt to 300 ppt. I told them that these were of the order of concentrations found in a laboratory study in 2013 that showed that breast cancer cell proliferation is accelerated by glyphosate in extremely low concentrations. We had several neighbours who have recently developed breast cancer. Now, in 2019, with many scientific papers reporting apocalyptic insect declines around the world, we are facing a global Armageddon; yet the public has no idea, because the press has concealed it from them.
Bench is also asked:
Have you seen the pesticides usage statistics for 2018? They confirm what a European NGO said in 2013, that the British citizens are being used as lab rats!
Dave Bench, you presented a paper at the Soil Association meeting on 20 November 2017… [it] showed that pesticide active ingredients applied to three British crops had increased between 6-18 fold between 1974 and 2016, rather than halved as farmers and industry had claimed!! As well as hearing this new evidence of increased pesticide use in the UK, the conference heard new scientific evidence from around the world showing that very low doses of pesticides, well below official ‘safety’ levels, pose a significant risk to public health via our food supply.
Were you shocked? Presumably you weren’t because you described the regulatory system for pesticides as robust and as balancing the risks of pesticides against the benefits to society. That statement is rubbish. It is for the benefit of the agrochemical industry. The industry (for it is the industry that does the testing, on behalf of regulators) only tests one pesticide at a time, whereas farmers spray a cocktail of pesticides, including over children and babies, without warning.
Ian Boyd, the former Chief Scientific Adviser to Defra, says pesticides, once they have been authorised, are never reviewed.
Mason adds there is consistent denial by the National Farmers Union (NFU), Defra and the agrochemical industry about the massive amounts of pesticides used on farmland and herbicides used in towns and cities on weeds; and there is silence from the UK corporate media.
She informs Bench that although glyphosate was relicensed in Europe by a “corrupt” group of individuals, it is distributed to every organ of the body and has multiple actions: it is an herbicide, an antibiotic, a fungicide, an antiprotozoal, an organic phosphonate, a growth regulator, a toxicant, a virulence enhancer and is persistent in the soil. It chelates (captures) and washes out the following minerals: boron, calcium, cobalt, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, nickel and zinc.
In her previous reports, as in her letter to Bench, Mason has documented the consequences of this for human health.
Just as concerning is the UN Global Chemicals Outlook II report that indicates large quantities of hazardous chemicals and pollutants continue to leak into the environment, contaminating food chains and accumulating in our bodies, where they do serious damage. Estimates by the European Environment Agency suggest that 62 per cent of the volume of chemicals consumed in Europe are hazardous to health. The World Health Organization estimates the burden of disease from selected chemicals at 1.6 million lives. The lives of many more are negatively impacted.
Business as usual: public health crisis
Mason goes on to highlight numerous disturbing aspects of the revolving door between the pesticide industry and public bodies/government in the UK. She also notes that David Cameron appointed Michael Pragnell, founder of Syngenta, to Cancer Research UK’s (CRUK) board and awarded him a CBE in 2017 for services to cancer research.
Mason explains that the British government’s UK life sciences strategy is dependent on funding from the pharmaceutical sector which has links with the pesticide industry. In 2011, CRUK started donating money (£450 million/year) to the government’s ‘Strategy for UK Life Sciences’ while AstraZeneca (Syngenta’s parent company) was providing 22 compounds to academic research to develop medicines in the UK. She argues that Syngenta’s products cause diseases, while its parent company tries to cure them with synthetic chemicals. And CRUK is a willing enabler.
In 2014, the NFU, the Crop Protection Association (CPA) and Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) launched ‘Healthy Harvest’ to safeguard the crop protection pesticide toolbox. The NFU and the agrochemical companies have continually defended the use of pesticides for economic reasons and complain about any attempt to restrict the 320-odd at their disposal. CPA, AIC and the NFU commissioned Andersons to write a report: ‘The effect of the loss of plant protection products on UK Agriculture and Horticulture’. Conveniently for the report’s commissioners, Andersons predicted dire economic effects on UK farming if pesticides were to be restricted.
And it is not that these powerful interests do not have the government’s full attention. Between May 2010 and the end of 2013, the Department of Health alone had 130 meetings with representatives of industry. According to Mason, it is business as usual and patently clear that the pesticides industry is being protected.
While continuing to ignore and side-line important scientific research findings which highlight inconvenient truths for government and the pesticide industry, prominent public officials and scientists as well as the media attempt to explain away all the diseases now affecting the UK as a result of individual behaviour: bad lifestyle choices.
In her various reports, Mason has discussed the importance of the gut microbiome and the deleterious effects of glyphosate which result in various health issues, such as obesity and depression. By 2018, CRUK was claiming that obesity caused 13 different cancers, but Mason argues that contamination by residues from 123 different pesticides on the fruit and vegetables supplied to schools by the Department of Health is the real reason for childhood obesity – not biscuits or poor choices.
Each year, there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers in the UK and increases in deaths from the same cancers with no treatments making any difference to the numbers. While certain prestigious research centres are lavished with funding, Mason argues their work merely serves to strengthen the pesticide and pharmaceutical industries and implies the entire process is little more than a profitable racket at the expense of public health.
The power of the corporations over governments and over the scientific community is extremely important. If you want to deal with pesticides, you have to deal with the companies…
Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on toxics, added:
While scientific research confirms the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human diseases or conditions or harm to the ecosystem presents a considerable challenge. This challenge has been exacerbated by a systematic denial, fuelled by the pesticide and agro-industry, of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals, and aggressive, unethical marketing tactics.
MS Swaminathan is often referred to as the ‘father’ of India’s Green Revolution. In 2009, he said that no scientific evidence had emerged to justify concerns about genetically modified (GM) crops, often regarded as stage two of the Green Revolution.
In a December 2018 paper in the journal Current Science, however, it was argued that Bt insecticidal cotton (India’s only officially approved commercial GM crop) is a failure and has not provided livelihood security for mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers.
The paper attracted a good deal of attention because, along with scientist PC Kesavan, Swaminathan was the co-author.
They concluded that globally both Bt crops and herbicide-tolerant crops are unsustainable and have not decreased the need for toxic chemical pesticides, the reason for these GM crops in the first place. Attention was also drawn to evidence that indicates Bt toxins are toxic to all organisms.
Kesavan and Swaminathan mounted a general critique of the GM paradigm. They noted that glyphosate-based herbicides, used on most GM crops in the world, and their active ingredient glyphosate, are genotoxic, cause birth defects and are carcinogenic. They also asserted that GM crop yields are no better than that of non-GM crops.
The authors concluded that genetic engineering technology is supplementary and must be need based. In more than 99% of cases, they said that time-honoured conventional breeding is sufficient.
In fact, Kesavan and Swaminathan argued that a sustainable ‘Evergreen Revolution’ based on a ‘systems approach’ and ‘ecoagriculture’ would guarantee equitable food security by ensuring access of rural communities to food.
Part of the pushback against Kevasan and Swaminathan has come from Dr Deepak Pental, developer and promoter of GM mustard at Delhi University. He responded to their piece with an article in September 2019, again in Current Science.
He argued that Kesavan and Swaminathan have unequivocally aligned themselves with overzealous environmentalists and ideologues, who have mindlessly attacked the use of GM technology to improve crops required for meeting the food and nutritional needs of a global population that is predicted to peak out at 11.2 billion. Pental added that the two authors’ analysis of modern breeding technologies is a reflection of their ideological proclivities.
By resorting to such statements, Pental was drawing on industry-inspired spin: criticisms of GM are driven by ideology, not fact, and GM is required to ‘feed the world’. Both assertions are baseless but are employed time and again across the globe by the pro-GM lobby in an attempt to discredit inconvenient scientific findings and campaigners who forward valid criticisms.
In response to Pental, Andrew Paul Gutierrez, Peter E. Kenmore and Aruna Rodrigues hit back with a piece in a November 2019 edition of the same journal, ‘When biotechnologists lack objectivity’. In it, they argue:
The need to counter Pental is critical because of his influence as part of a lobbying force for unbridled legislation for GE technologies and as a purveyor of scare tactics that food security in India will be compromised without them.
We question his failure to consider whether genetically modified crops (GMOs) are safe for human and ecological health, increase yield and quality, are rigorously tested using proper risk assessment biosafety protocols, and whether biosafety research level (BRL) mechanisms for GMOs field testing under various programmes are being implemented? These are the major themes of our rebuttal.
The authors indicate the adverse impacts on human health of GMOs and associated agrochemical inputs and the very real risk of gene flow and other ways by which non-GM crops and seeds can be contaminated by their GM counterparts:
Genetic contamination is of special concern in India which has rich genetic diversity of crops/plants, and yet there are ongoing efforts to release GMO herbicide tolerant mustard (Brassica juncea) in India, which is a centre of diversity and domestication of over 5,000 wild and domesticated varieties of mustard and the wider ‘family’ of brassicas that includes 9,720 accessions… We must question why regulators would ever consider approval of GMOs of native species (e.g. of Desi cottons, brinjal eggplant, mustard, rice, among others).
As alluded to in the above extract, India has a wealth of plant species that have evolved and been adapted over millennia. The country has good-quality traditional seeds which are ideally suited for local soils, climates and pests. And these seeds are less resource intensive. We must therefore question why Pental’s GM mustard is being pushed so hard when it does not out-yield certain mustard species that India has already.
While touching on serious conflicts of interest within regulatory bodies, the authors also discuss Bt cotton and GM mustard, the commercialisation of which is currently held up due to a public litigation case with Aruna Rodrigues acting as lead petitioner.
They provide data to highlight the myth of Bt cotton success in India. However, GM promoters continue to peddle the story of Bt cotton success and aim to drive the full-scale introduction of GM crops into Indian agriculture on the back of this false narrative.
The authors explain that the current GM Bt cotton hybrids in India were indeed developed as a ‘value capture’ mechanism that enabled the seed industry to side-step intractable legal intellectual property rights: the interests of poor farmers were sacrificed for corporate commercial benefit.
In the article, data is also presented for GM mustard and the authors argue that it shows no yield advantage and its testing and evaluation have involved protocol violations.
In India, various high-level reports have advised against the adoption of GM crops. Appointed by the Supreme Court, the ‘Technical Expert Committee (TEC) Final Report’ (2013) was scathing about the prevailing regulatory system and highlighted its inadequacies and serious inherent conflicts of interest. The TEC recommended a 10-year moratorium on the commercial release of all GM crops.
Kesavan and Swaminathan, in their piece. also criticised India’s GM regulating bodies due to a lack of competency and endemic conflicts of interest and a lack of expertise in GM risk assessment protocols, including food safety assessment and the assessment of environmental impacts. They also questioned regulators’ failure to carry out a socio-economic assessment of GM impacts on resource-poor small and marginal farmers and called for “able economists who are familiar with and will prioritize rural livelihoods, and the interests of resource-poor small and marginal farmers rather than serve corporate interests and their profits.”
Rodrigues has for a long time contended that GM ‘regulation’ in India occurs in a system dogged by serious conflicts of interest: funders, promoters and regulators are basically one and the same. She argues that agricultural institutions and numerous public sector scientists working within these bodies along with a powerful lobbying force are joined at the hip in pushing for GM.
GM Silver bullet misses the target
If the pro-GM lobby is genuinely concerned about ‘feeding the world’, it should really be questioning why the world already produces enough to feed 10 million people but over two billion are experiencing micronutrient deficiencies (of which over 800 million are classed as chronically undernourished); why we are seeing rising rates of obesity, diabetes and a range of other health-related conditions; and why, post-Green Revolution, the range of crops grown has narrowed and the nutrient content of food and diets has diminished.
The answers lie with the practices, processes and toxic inputs that are integral to the prevailing model of chemical-intensive, industrial agriculture and the dynamics of the globalised capitalist food system. Throughout the world, this model has become tied to agro-export mono-cropping (often with non-food commodities taking up prime agricultural land), sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF ‘structural adjustment’ directives, the outcomes of which have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the consolidation of rapacious global agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries into food deficit areas.
Global food insecurity and malnutrition are therefore not the result of a lack of productivity.
As for India, although it fares poorly in world hunger assessments, the country has more than enough food to feed its 1.3 billion-plus population and with appropriate policy support measures could draw on its own indigenous agroecological know-how to do so.
Where farmers’ livelihoods are concerned, the pro-GM lobby says GM will boost productivity and help secure cultivators a better income. This too is misleading and again ignores crucial political and economic contexts. For instance, to gain brief insight into the nature of India’s agrarian crisis and why farmers are leaving the sector, let us turn to renowned journalist P Sainath who says:
“The agrarian crises in five words is: hijack of agriculture by corporations. The process by which it is done in five words: predatory commercialisation of the countryside. When your cultivation costs have risen 500 per cent over a decade, the result of that crisis, that process in five words: biggest displacement in our history.”
India’s farmers are not experiencing financial hardship due to low productivity. They are reeling under the effects of neoliberal policies, years of neglect and a deliberate strategy to displace smallholder agriculture at the behest of the World Bank and global agri-food corporations. And people are not hungry in India because its farmers do not produce enough food. Hunger and malnutrition result from various factors, not least poor food distribution, lack of infrastructure, (gender) inequality and poverty.
However, aside from putting a positive spin on the questionable performance of GM agriculture, the pro-GM lobby, both outside of India and within, has wasted no time in wrenching these issues from their political contexts to use the notions of ‘helping farmers’ and ‘feeding the world’ as lynchpins of its promotional strategy.
So the presumption was that you really just need your basic macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins, fats, etc., and the mitochondria will take care of everything. What is ignored is that to get from those macronutrients to ATP you actually need functional enzymes and you need micronutrients – vitamins and minerals at each step and there’s 22 of them you need. Thiamine happens to be the most important because of its geographic position, if you will, and because of its great limiting step along the various pathways.
No matter what other deficiency you may or may not have, if you do not address thiamine you will never heal. It’s not the only vitamin you need, but it’s the one you absolutely must address before you deal with everything else. I think that’s the most difficult thing for people to realize and why folks will go on these things with folate and B12 and this, that and the other thing, forgetting entirely that that’s so much further down the pathway than thiamine. So they wonder why they don’t heal and they seem to think, “Well it must not be the nutrients. It’s not the vitamins. I’ve done the vitamin thing and it’s not working.” But they haven’t done the right ones yet.
— Chandler Marrs, PhD. and editor of Hormones Matter April 2019 interview
In so many deceptive and not so deceptive ways, Western Medicine has failed a great many hundreds of millions of people. Anything tagged “Western” under this penury and punitive parasitic-reactionary-zombie-shock-to-the-system capitalism is more than just suspect when one looks at the project of finance and command and control the financiers of the world have unleashed for several hundred years.
Western Agriculture (the so-called greening of farming with former Nazi chemists retrofitting war tools into farmers’ nerve agents, hormone disrupters, brain scrambling toxins into the war against nature; i.e., the so-called green revolution) we can ask, how is that working out for humankind? It doesn’t take a Michael Pollan to understand that just the Western diet and the loads of preservatives, emulsifiers, anti-caking tricks, nanoparticles and fake, cheap, trickster ingredients — thanks to Western Life Goes Better with Chemicals paradigm – are killing Americans and others tied to these crack cocaine delivery systems supplying the West with “nutritional” and “farming” beasts of a nation.
We can’t mix apples and oranges, can we, as we are told by Western Mass Media, et al, when we couple the war on human food with the war on ecology and nature, which is what agriculture has unleashed and continues to supercharge this highly industrialized, mono-culture focused, scaled-up version of a Brave New Farm New Order consumer pipeline. Water polluted, aquifers drained, rivers clogged, dams the old-new normal, most wild systems destroyed, fractured and quickly endangered, and, well you have a system that is sick under any person’s definition of the word or concept of “illness.”
However, hand in hand goes the medical and pharma communities lavishly gaining trillions in profits from this pipeline of cancer-causing, heart-disease tripping, stroke-inducing, diabetes-setting high fat-salt-sugar-meat-dairy diet. In part, the medical community has facilitated reinforcing that death pipeline through co-option of the “normalcy” of capital and profits ruling the market — ruling citizens by flipping us into consumers, perennial patients, targets, marks, victims, Guinea pigs, and then chucking any sense of the precautionary principle in lieu of our so called better angels (actual devils of GMOs, HFCS, hyphenated carcinogens).
Every doctor making a cool five million bucks a year on gastric by-passes, heart surgeries, diabetes maintenance programs and cancer-treatments is part of the problem.
Doctors invest in Pizza Hut, Coca Cola, Merck, Monsanto, and whatever bulks up their investment portfolios. Their well-being and their families’ well-being and their rich status in our New Gilded Age society are dependent/interdependent on disease treatment, disease maintenance, disease-embracing medicine, and disease as the new normal.
What goes into Johnny’s gullet-lungs-brain comes back to the rich and Western elite in literal gold reserves and hedge fund derivatives.
So, Western Industrialization – in agriculture, in medicine, in food, in education, in production lines – greased vis-à-vis those economy of scales that aid and abet putting out of business any sane (AKA alternative) treatment modality (naturopathic, holistic, Eastern “medicine” steeped in health care preventative models), or holistic food system (agroecological, organic, scaled to human size farming), or education program (the whole person, intergenerational, creative, hands on, sans core curriculum and standardized test model kind) –is not just the bane of humanity, big or small communities, but also the bane of civilization as we know it.
Any veterinarian looking at an over-sized, arthritis-prone, pre-diabetic, sluggish, tired, itchy skin, anxious, stinky mouthed youngish Labrador Retriever will prescribe more veggies, no commercial dog food (of the rendered roadkill variety) lean chicken, rice, carrots, corn, squash, err, a vegetarian diet.
The human patient doctors really are glad the advertisement says, “Things deep-fried, refined, greasy, meat-centric do go better with Coca Cola.” Money, money, money, guaranteed job security, great gobs of power in our society as sickness and disease come to younger and younger cohorts with each passing year.
Johnny, Juanita, Quyen, Ahmed are Dining on Death
It goes without saying that anyone following my polemics and non-polemical writing know that I am solidly anti-corporation, anti-top down government, and for peace colleges, for an entirely new and different educational system, and that’s not just for PK12, but lifelong education. I am for scaling down, localizing, and working bio-regionally and globally on these systems of pain, oppression, subjugation, and disease.
We are only going to get out of this plundering, and end these enslaved systems of oppression, pollution, and lobotomy through ecosocialism and a true people’s contract through a people’s direct democracy, and strong collective engagement and education.
The revolution will not happen here in the USA, as we know, and when I say revolution, I am speaking about all of those systems of penury and oppression tied to the Military-Prison-Chemical-Pharmacological-Fossil Fuel-Finance-Banking-Insurance-Medical-IT-Real Estate-Education-Legal-AI Complex going down down gone!
While I parachute into jobs tied to the social services, homeless citizen services, PK12 education, environmental activism, localized community rights building, art, literature, politics, media, journalism, anti-poverty programs, I get more than a bird’s eye view of the systems of oppression in this white supremacist patriarchal society.
Just three days ago, I was the teacher of record (substitute) with seven para-educators (women who not only assist that special ed classroom, but who are also teachers, aides, psychologists, so to speak) as I worked an elementary school’s special education self-contained classroom.
First, the parents of these children are amazing, but they are hobbled not only by poverty, by their working class struggle, and by the vagaries of paying so much to live in poverty, but also by these special needs children.
These children are mostly honored and loved.
Then those seven hours, five days a week, in a school, these youth are then shepherded by caring people working under systems of oppression and penury and disappearing funding, until alas, these educational frameworks become failures.
And to what end? Young kids I taught Monday were 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 years old. Where will they be when they hit 18 or 21? The society is not planning for their adulthood, for their needs, for their pathway to some sense of independence. Think living on the streets or staying at home until parents die.
This is the problem, now, is it not? Youth who need one-on-one, sometimes two staff-to-one child attention. The funding isn’t there, and when localities face budget constraints, they go after the “lower rung,” to include firing/laying off para-educators. No teacher in her right mind would have a classroom of a dozen or more youth with behavioral, developmental, intellectual disabilities under her wing WITHOUT the support of paraeducators.
A million people have a million “ideas” and “opinions” about what is wrong and needs fixing with education, but in the end, the American hating, trolling, everyone’s opinion is sacrosanct citizen is more than out to lunch when it comes to almost every armchair prognostication made.
We put young and old immigrants in cages, or these wire boxes where most anyone in this society would not dare put their pet dogs in, and yet we let children die, force children away from family, and, well, a society that accepts that (and by it happening, we all accept that sort of Gestapo Nazi style of punishment), will easily accept the broken and breaking systems of education we have come to see in thousands of communities across the land.
Is it any wonder that the food we feed these special education students is one hot mess of triple fat, triple salt, triple carbs, triple sugar?
Children – either deemed special ed or behaviorally challenged, or gifted and talented – are being fed the most perverse diets on earth. Flooded with empty calories and dead-end oils that are toxic and inflammatory, but also chemicals that make up the ingredient list on a box of crackers that hardly any college educated person can pronounce, let alone understand the origins and consequences on the human physiology, the food (sic) served is deadly. Daily deadly dose of cafeteria (they don’t cook in school cafeterias anymore, but microwave prepacked junk) slop.
Pollution Starts with the Polluting of the Mind
Polluting people with propaganda, with bad food, bad air, bad soil, bad water, bad culture, and, alas, these children in special education are dealing with a multitude of issues they will never fully or even partially get out from under.
Chronic disease, chronic fatigue, chronic brain fog, chronic pain, chronic anxiety, chronic addiction, chronic confusion, chronic anger, chronic discombobulation, all of it have their origins right smack in the center of the gooey nougat of death-inducing capitalism.
I’m interested in people thinking outside of the box, and pushing against the paradigms of oppression, in any arena, whether it’s industry, big oil, big finance, or, in this article’s case, medicine.
How many times does a guy who is pugnacious and pugilistic get to interview a doctor whose pedigree goes way back – he’s alive and well, age 95, living in England?
Old school – mandatory (national service) in the RAF (7 years) in England, and working for the national health service in the UK (10 years).
I have been tracking the work of people like Derrick Lonsdale around naturopathy, the foods-vitamins-lifestyles-vaccinations connection for decades. I have looked at the value of Vitamin and Herbal Supplemental enrichment in our lives for years — lifestyles broken by the chemical exposures, the pesticides exposures, the drug exposures, the pollution exposures, the GMO exposures, the electrical magnetic frequency (WiFi, cellular phone, etc) exposures, the heavy metal exposures.
Add to that the magical thinking, the lobotomizing education systems, the consumer-droning mass media mush, and we have some really hard times in Western Society that is so hobbled by fear, falling in line (in a goosestep sometimes) with the corporate-government narrative, etc.
Autoimmune Disease Goes to the Mitochondria
There are so many maladies tied to autoimmune diseases, bowel conditions, blood issues, and complete endocrine and hormone discombobulation.
In many cases, women especially are deemed hysterical, psychologically-motivated, insane when they come to Western Medicine with such issues listed above:
Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Multiple sclerosis (MS)
Type 1 diabetes mellitus
Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy
I’ve been lucky to have written for Hormones Matter – tied to my mistreatment by social services non-profits and Planned Parenthood for a simple sex ed training class in Seattle where I dared to ask the facilitators with PP that the Gardasil debate was not yet settled.
Here I was as a foster youth social worker, and you can imagine the foster parents that have children in their charge – many are tied to homeschooling and are skeptical of vaccinations. You just need to go to Hormones Matteror just do the Google (if Google hasn’t scrubbed all the evidence against Gardasil) and put in “ Merck and Gardasil and criticism and lawsuits.” What have you.
Derrick, along with Hormones Matter editor, Chandler Marrs, have written an amazing book, Thiamine Deficiency Disease, Dysautonomia, and High Calorie Malnutrition.
Go to Hormonesmatter (dot) com and check out the depth of the articles, depth of the outside the Western Medicine Paradigm the articles address. Writers who are PhD’s, MDs, or experts through their own trials and tribulations suffering under myriad of diseases.
Here’s my interview:
Paul Haeder: So you are 95 years old, and have seen many changes in Western Society and innovative arenas of thought and knowledge around disease and human health. What are some of the biggest impacts you believe from your learning have greatly changed the way you see health? What are some of the most troubling aspects of medicine and health you can discuss after, what, more than 50 years in medicine?
Derrick Lonsdale: I started my medical career, after National Service as a medical officer in the RAF, in family practice for 7 years under the NHS. Not liking the bureaucracy I immigrated to Canada with a short service commission in the RCAF. I did residency in pediatrics at Cleveland Clinic and in 1962 I was invited to join the staff.
I was on the pediatric staff at the Cleveland Clinic from 1962 to 1982. I headed a section on biochemical genetics. A six year old boy who had repeated episodes of brain disease had every conventional test normal. He proved to be the first case of vitamin B1 dependency, a mutation in the gene that enabled glucose to fuel energy metabolism. It changed my professional life. With the extensive library research required, I learned the details of energy metabolism and began to be aware that it was the core issue of disease. I began to realize that the present medical model, dependent on the Flexner report of 1910, is inadequate. I found that so many of the children referred to the Clinic were emotionally sick from diet rather than from poor parenting. I published a suggested new medical model, based on a combination of genetics/environmental stress/and energy, represented as three interlocking circles. The body is an electrochemical “machine” and if the genetic code is perfect (it never is) all it requires is energy.
Genetic mutations seldom act by themselves. Another factor comes into play, giving rise to the gene expression. Diabetes sometimes makes its first appearance after a cold or an injury, strongly indicating that energy deficiency affects the gene(s) at root. The troublesome aspects of modern medicine are far reaching. The profession has been taken over by the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry. Drugs only treat symptoms and do not address cause. Surgery to remove a sick organ is tacitly an admission of medical failure.
PH: Great scientists like Robert Sapolsky have looked at the diseases of Homo sapiens as they are tied to stress, as in his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.
DL: Hans Selye was the great interpreter of the physiologic and pathophysiogic effects of stress. He was able to show that the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) in experimental animals required energy for the animal to adapt to the many forms of stress that he used in his experiments. Lab data obtained from stressed animals imitated the lab data from sick humans and he formulated the idea that human diseases were “the diseases of adaptation”. One of his students was able to produce the GAS by making the animal thiamine deficient, thus showing the importance of energy metabolism. The only way that we can help the body in synthesizing the required energy is by providing the right fuel and the catalysts that enable oxidation to occur efficiently. Pharmaceuticals only address symptoms but do nothing for their underlying cause.
PH: Discuss your work and knowledge around just the real and perceived stress of our Western Culture (not tied to our Western diets — that’s for a later question) and how that plays havoc on the human biological system?
DL: Well, I guess that comes under the heading of stress. Just like Selye’s animals, we require energy to adapt b . . . meaning that our brain/body complex defense mechanisms go into action. We live in a world that takes little notice of our biology. The further we get away from it the greater the risk. There are thousands of toxic chemicals that increase the stress load. The relatively new science of epigenetics has yet to emerge in clinical medicine. This, as you know, is the science of how nutrition and lifestyle influence our genes. Epigenetics is even emerging in the complex field of cancer.
PH: On Hormones Matter, you have many articles tied to thiamine deficiency, but also other areas:
October 14, 2019, Sleep Requires Energy
September 30, 2019, A New Medical Model to Prevent Physician Burnout
September 17, 2019, SIDS and Vaccination
September 12, 2019, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis: An Unusual Treatment
August 22, 2019, When Glaucoma Is More Than an Eye Disease
July 1, 2019, Energy Loss as a Cause of Disease
DL: Yes, but they are all tied to our capacity to synthesize energy. I did sabbatical in Australia after David Read published thiamine deficiency as a cause of SIDS. My colleagues and I published abnormal auditory brain-stem evoked potentials in threatened SIDS and showed that megadose thiamine stopped the apnea alarms from ringing. We also published our work. Thiamine deficiency disease gives us the prototype for dysautonomia. Interestingly, many case reports of dysautonomia have been published in association with an assortment of diseases, without recognizing the importance of the association. I have suggested that it hallmarks the association as evidence that each disease is caused by oxidative inefficiency. The dysautonomia is really very much part of the disease expression.
PH: So, Dr. Lonsdale, there seems a sense of urgency in these pieces, and the thread to each of them goes to deficiency in nutrition. Why is it in 2019, we have Western medicine treated disease rather than preventing disease?
DL: A good question. The medical profession as a whole has rejected the deficiency of non caloric nutrients as a common cause of disease. They claim that vitamin enrichment has abolished them and that these diseases are only of historical interest. Hence they are not familiar with the symptoms that would have been recognized 70-80 years ago. Many of these patients are diagnosed as “psychosomatic” and there are probably millions of Americans affected. Any physician who claims that a patient’s symptoms are due to (e.g.) beriberi is considered to be “off his head” and is exactly what happened to me at Cleveland Clinic. I actually saw beriberi in CCH patients and nobody would believe me. I have outlined their cases in our book that needs to be read by every physician, since laboratory proof is used.
PH: We have in the USA more than 150 million people with at least chronic illness, many with co-occurring. We have an obesity epidemic. We have a society that is fed the propaganda of Madison Avenue. How do you see this logjam getting broken when so much of Western Medicine “depends” on the food industries of high salt, fat, sugar?
DL: Chandler [Marrs] and I are more than convinced that thiamine deficiency is widespread because this deficiency is easily induced by inordinate ingestion of sugar in many different forms. The last statistics that I saw for the U.S. was 150 pounds of sugar per capitum per annum. We have suggested that the early symptoms, if recognized at onset, are easily treated. We believe that if there is failure to recognize them, chronic disease follows later, giving rise to an assortment of neurodegenerative diseases. Each is named by the first individual to recognize the repeated appearance of a constellation of symptoms and signs (Parkinson, Alzheimer etc). Not acknowledging the overlap of these symptoms in patients with a diagnosis of one disease versus another, each is thought to have a separate cause that must be specifically identified as a “cure”. We regard that as trying to shut the stable door after the horse has gone.
In 1936 Sir Rudolph Peters opened the studies of oxidative metabolism by the discovery of the catatorulin effect. He showed that there was no difference in the respiration of thiamine deficient pigeon brain cells compared with cells from a thiamine replete pigeon until glucose was added to the preparation. The thiamine sufficient cells immediately began to respire, whereas the TD cells did not. I have seen hundreds of patients whose extremely variable symptoms were due to mild to moderate thiamine deficiency and proved it via lab testing.
PH: Where do you see the work you and Chandler have accomplished going? Most people I see and work with as a teacher and social worker just can’t understand the axiom – You are what you eat. I could take that further, of course, by saying “you are what you read, do, say, believe, hold dear, don’t believe, hope for, dream of, observe, watch, hear, listen to.”
DL: We believe that we must try to address both physicians and patients, hence our reports on Hormones Matter. It has led to a great deal of correspondence between patients and us. What appalls us is the many years of suffering expressed by many of them and their rejection by their physicians as “problem patients”. One young woman discovered from reading our book that her Flagyl toxicity symptoms were due to TD. Not only did her physician insist that her symptoms were “psychological”, she was rejected from that multi-doctor clinic “ because she would not accept the psychology diagnosis”. Her physician denied Flagyl toxicity even though the symptoms are published.
PH: Is it a matter of hormones in most cases you have experienced in both medicine and in communicating with individuals with major physical health concerns?
DL: Hormones enter the picture because they are under the control of the limbic brain with the autonomic system. Energy deficiency in the brain affects their synthesis and their distribution.
PH: What could med schools be doing to really help the health of a community, the country?
DL: Med schools have produced research to show that a lot of disease in America is biochemical in origin. Even if these common symptoms are correctly found to be biochemical in origin, they then assume that a drug must be found to correct them. The whole climate of medicine is based on pharmaceutical “genius”.
PH: Talk about the violence-hormone-vitamin deficiency connection in more depth, if you will?
DL: Our emotional sensations arise from the lower brain and are tied to the perceived event. They can be modified by the cortex but it implies brain communication. TD is equivalent to a mild degree of hypoxia and is thought of as causing pseudohypoxia. Because this is dangerous to the organism, either of them will excite the tendency to initiate the fight-or-flight reflex behavior. Hence, I see a boy who has had a mild redress in school, nursing it with a sense of human injustice, bursting into nonsensical violence. Nobody has ever questioned a perpetrator as to the quality of his diet. Nobody has reported a physical exam that might show the imprint of dysautonomia. Some years ago a probation officer in Cuyahoga Falls managed to get a judge to bind over juvenile criminals to her for dietary supervision. The recidivity rate fell to virtually zero.
PH: What do you attribute your longevity to?
DL: I don‘t know. I do take a lot of supplements.
PH: What role does epigenetics play in your research around energy and Vitamin B?
DL: I think that my use of megadoses of thiamine is epigenetic.
PH: Diseases of adaptation v. diseases of maladaptation is what you allude to when speaking of Seyle. Give a connotation and denotation of what this is saying for the average reader to understand.
DL: Stress is defined as a mental or physical environmental force acting on an organism, including humans. Like Selye’s experimental animals such a person first must perceive the form of the stress and adapt to it. Infection excites a defensive response that is organized automatically by the brain. A deadline, a business problem, a divorce etc requires a thought process conducted by the brain. Both physical and mental stress require energy expenditure. It explains why a divorce might result in sickness in one person and not in another, depending on the energy status. In other words, the ability to meet life stresses depends on the combination of adequate nutrition and genetics.
PH: Industrial agriculture and industrial food and industrial everything have come from the industrial revolution, from then to now. What can we do to reverse this turbo charged world of turbo charged living, eating, consuming and surviving? Your message is clear, smart and elegant, but in Capitalism, we always want to blame the victim, the patient, the person. It’s our fault if we are in constant fatigue, or if we are fat and can’t lose weight, or if we have difficulty dealing with the everyday “norms” of modern society.
DL: I don’t think that we can do anything about altering the cause. All we can do is to repeat and repeat what IS the cause, pointing out HOW it affects us. If a person will not change diet, he/she may well accept supplements because they are trained to taking pills for health correction. Perhaps, artificial as that may be, clinical improvement will enhance the perceived importance of nutrition and lifestyle, acting as a learning process.
PH: Where is the new frontier in medicine, in your estimation?
DL: I think that it is in the hands of ACAM [ACAM is the pioneer integrative organization and advocate of education for dedicated professionals who set out to make a difference in the standards of healthcare. Our membership includes MD, DO, ND, ARNP, NP, DC, DDS, scientists, medical students/residents, dietitians, nutritionists, researchers, and more.] and ICIM [The International College of Integrative Medicine is a community of dedicated physicians who advance innovative therapies in integrative medicine by conducting educational conferences, supporting research, and cooperating with other scientific organizations, while always promoting the highest standards of practice.]
PH: I have friends and others researching the chemical-human disease connection, to include Dr. Rosemary Mason, looking at the unbelievable amounts of chemicals – poisons – in our ecosystems, food systems, and bodies.
Campaigner and environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has written an open letter to the Chief Medical Officer of England, Sally Davies. In it, Mason states that none of the more than 400 pesticides that have been authorised in the UK have been tested for long-term actions on the brain: in the foetus, in children or in adults.
The UK Department of Health (DoH) has previously stated that pesticides are not its concern. But, according to Mason, they should be. She says that Theo Colborn’s crucial research in the early 1990s showed that endocrine disrupters (EDCs) were changing humans and the environment, but this research was ignored by officials. Glyphosate, the most widespread herbicide in the world, is an EDC and a nervous system disrupting chemical.
Speak to these concerns, too, Dr. Lonsdale.
DL: I totally agree but this kind of common sense usually falls on deaf ears. I have entered my posts on the metronidazole toxicity group and sent a letter to the FDA in regard to the nature of its toxicity. It hasn’t changed a thing but a lot of people have been helped. A paper I wrote in 1980 reporting 20 adolescents who had proved thiamine deficiency disease caused my phone to light up but it has long been forgotten. We can only just keep plugging on!!!
The renowned author and whistleblower Evaggelos Vallianatos describes British environmentalist and campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason as a “defender of the natural world and public health.” I first came across her work a few years ago. It was in the form of an open letter she had sent to an official about the devastating environmental and human health impacts of glyphosate-based weed killers. What had impressed me was the document she had sent to accompany the letter. It was over 20 pages long and contained official data and referred to a plethora of scientific papers to support the case she was making.
For almost a decade, Rosemary Mason has been writing open letters and sending reports she has compiled to media outlets and prominent officials and agencies in the US, the UK and Europe to question their decisions and/or to inform them of the dangers of pesticides. She has been relentless in exposing conflicts of interest, fraudulent science and institutionalised corruption in regulatory processes surrounding glyphosate and other agrochemicals. Her quest has been fired by a passion to protect the natural world and the public but there is also a personal aspect: she is affected by a serious health condition which she attributes directly to the reckless use of pesticides in South Wales where she resides. And her assertion here is not based on idle speculation. In her reports, she has presented a great deal of evidence about the deterioration of the health of the British public and how agrochemicals play a major contributory role.
She recently sent me a report ‘How glyphosate-based herbicides poisoned our nature reserve and the world‘. It focuses on how she had set up a nature reserve in South Wales. What she and her husband (who has a professional background in conservation and nature) had achieved on that reserve was impressive. But thanks to the local council’s indiscriminate spraying of glyphosate-based herbicides, it was subsequently transformed from a piece of land teeming with flora and fauna into a barren wasteland.
What follows is an interview I conducted with Rosemary Mason about her nature reserve and her campaigning. We discussed her motivation, the support she has received and her feelings after almost a decade of campaigning.
Colin Todhunter: Have you always had a passion for the natural environment?
Rosemary Mason: I was born in the countryside during the war and my mother took us on walks and taught us about wildflowers, which was her passion. My brothers and I fished in the stream for minnows and sticklebacks and set nightlines for pike and chub (we never caught any). When I was a junior doctor, I became interested in bird watching and I am former chair of the West Area, Glamorgan Wildlife Trust. At that time, unlike today, farmland was full of lapwing, oystercatcher and redshank displaying and protecting their nests.
CT: Why did you decide to set up your nature reserve?
RM: In 2006, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust was launched in response to the massive declines in bumblebees, butterflies and insects in general, with the demise of traditional hedgerows, hay meadows, chalk grassland and wildflowers and the intensification of farming and the widening use of pesticides. At the same time, the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council perversely announced the closure of its wildlife research centres for ‘financial reasons’, a decision opposed by 99% of 1,327 stakeholders. Monks Wood centre, which hosted BBC’s Spring Watch, pioneered work on DDT and pesticides in the 1960s and more recently revealed how climate change is affecting wildlife, with spring arriving three weeks earlier. More significantly, the research centres were also involved in assessing the impacts of GM (genetically modified) crops on wildlife, with findings contradicting industry claims that no harm would be caused.
In response, in March 2006, my husband and I decided to establish our own small pesticide-free wildlife reserve after attending a joint meeting of the Welsh Ornithological Society and the British Trust for Ornithology in Aberystwyth.
CT: I have read your new report about your nature reserve. I would certainly encourage everyone to read it. It describes in some detail how you and your husband set about attracting an impressively wide array of bird, insect and plant species to the reserve, many of which had virtually disappeared from the British countryside, mainly as a result of intensive farming practices. What I found impressive is your knowledge of these species and how you were able to identify them. From the narrative provided (which at times reads almost like a novel) and the enthusiasm conveyed, you put in a lot of hard work developing the reserve and what you achieved there was impressive.
RM: In brief, it was a miracle. I think the next five years from 2006 were the most exciting and fulfilling of my life. At the end of 2009, I wrote an account of speckled bush crickets. Judith Marshall, working at the Natural History Museum, is a world expert on grasshoppers and bush crickets. She said it was the first monograph to be written on a single species.
CT: Can you say something about the demise of the nature reserve?
RM: We published a second photo-journal in 2010, ‘The year of the bumblebee: observations in a small nature reserve.’ But in 2011, I knew something was wrong. The moths were disappearing from the area and the orb web spider had gone from the hedge. We were aware that the local council was spraying glyphosate-based herbicides on Japanese knotweed in the valley below and close to our reserve. But we had to be sure.
So, in August 2013 and August 2014, we sent samples of river water and tap water to Leipzig to Prof Dr Monika Kreuger for analysis. Between August 2013 and August 2014, the levels of glyphosate in tap water had increased ten-fold, from 30 ppt to 300 ppt. These were of the order of concentrations that stimulated the growth of breast cancer cells in a laboratory setting.
In August 2013, we asked our then Welsh Assembly Member to request the council to stop spraying glyphosate-based herbicides on Japanese knotweed. The council said they would only stop if they were authorised by the Health and Safety Executive. So, I wrote to the HSE at the beginning of 2014 telling them about measuring increasing glyphosate levels in water and that we had had many cases of breast cancer in our area. They refused to do it because they said that glyphosate-based herbicides were still legal. I begged them to do it on several occasions, as we saw the biodiversity in our reserve plummeting. Finally, they said if I asked the same question again, they wouldn’t reply to me.
CT: You have engaged in a long struggle for many years, trying to get officials at local, national and European levels to act on pesticides. You have written many open letters to policy makers and key officials and have usually attached lengthy reports referring to data and scientific papers in support of your case. I think you began doing this in late 2010. Whose work have you taken inspiration from along the way?
RM: The work of Dr Henk Tennekes, the independent Dutch toxicologist, was a real eye opener for me. In 2010, he published a paper and wrote a book ‘The Systemic Insecticides: a disaster in the making’. It is about the loss of insects and insect-feeding birds in Europe, caused by neonicotinoid insecticides. The RSPB and the IUCN Charities refused to help fund the book because it ‘wasn’t scientific enough’. We subsequently discovered that Syngenta had funded neonicotinoid seeds for the RSPB Hope Farm Reserve. Systemic neonicotinoid insecticides are still on the market in the UK and the US nine years later.
I found Henk’s work to be shattering. It actually changed the course of my life. The fact was that he’d worked out that the effect on the brains of insects was irreversible, cumulative and there was no safe level of exposure. What was worse was that the Chemical Regulation Directorate didn’t seem to take it seriously. So, I wrote to Europe and the US EPA and the response was the same: ‘there is no evidence that the neonics are harmful to honeybees.’ Henk had written this book with amazing pictures and artwork showing the impact on insect-feeding birds throughout Europe. Humans had the same receptors; so, imagine the effects on humans if there are lots of neonics around. By March 2011, Henk and I decided that there would be a chemical apocalypse. So here we are, eight years later and bingo, our predictions were spot on!
Francisco Sanchez-Bayo, a toxicologist living in Australia, wrote papers with Henk agreeing that neonicotinoids insecticides irreversibly damaged the brains of insects and that levels built up over time. In 2019, he wrote a paper with a colleague in China, which proved that insect losses were global and due to pesticides.
Then there was the late Dr Maewan Ho of the former Institute of Science in Society who helped me to publish an article in the ISiS magazine in September 2014: ‘How Roundup poisoned my nature reserve’. She sadly died on 16 March 2016 from advanced cancer. She was an amazing woman and gave me much encouragement.
Finally, Polly Higgins, a Scottish barrister and environmentalist, gave up her practice and set up an organisation to end ecocide (destruction of the environment). Polly Higgins was an inspiration and campaigned tirelessly against ecocide. She died from cancer aged 50.
CT: Given all the open letters you have written to officials over the years, I cannot but feel you have by and large been stonewalled. Where does the buck stop?
RM: With David Cameron, the Health and Safety Executive and Defra (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) . A ‘Letter from America’ was sent from nearly 60 million US citizens warning Europe not to authorise GM crops and Roundup because of the disastrous effects on human health and biodiversity. Wales and Scotland took that advice. David Cameron received it on 11 November 2014, but he and Defra ignored it on behalf of England and kept it secret from the public. Cameron also appointed Michael Pragnell, Founder of Syngenta, to be Chairman of Cancer Research UK, which I’ve written about.
The HSE refused to ask the Council to stop spraying GBH on our reserve because it was ‘still legal’. The European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority ignored the Letter from America too and kept on authorising GM crops for feed and food in the EU.
Of course, there are many others who should be held responsible too, such as Bernhard Url, chief executive of EFSA, and the recently retired Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies.
CT: How do you feel about the destruction of your reserve, the pesticides issue, the state of nature and those officials who have effectively ignored much of what you have said to them? Disappointed? Frustrated?
RM: Those are such inadequate words to express my feelings. I am devastated about the global losses of biodiversity and I weep for our reserve. Sometimes, I dream that it is all reversible, but I know it is not. I read books about nature as ‘comfort food’. I feel sorry for the children who may never see a butterfly or a bumblebee. Indeed, I am a bit disappointed about the lack of support I have had from certain environmental groups and media outlets that report on environmental issues. I would like the mainstream media to acknowledge the role of the pesticides industry, but I don’t suppose they ever will.
However, I have gained some satisfaction from receiving expressions of gratitude and praise via the academia.edu site where my work is archived. And at least Jon Snow (Channel 4 broadcast journalist in the UK) has revealed the chief cause of losses of biodiversity to be poisoning the land, not global warming.
How do I feel? Maybe ‘resigned’ would be the right word to use.
• All of Rosemary Mason’s work can be accessed on the academia.edu website here.
Whether it involves the undermining or destruction of what were once largely self-sufficient agrarian economies in Africa or the devastating impacts of soy cultivation in Argentina, localised, traditional methods of food production have given way to global supply chains dominated by policies which favour agri-food giants, resulting in the destruction of habitat and peasant farmer livelihoods and the imposition of a model of agriculture that subjugates remaining farmers and regions to the needs and profit margins of these companies.
Many take as given that profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be custodians of natural assets. There is the premise that water, seeds, land, food, soil, forests and agriculture should be handed over to powerful, corrupt transnational corporations to milk for profit, under the pretence these entities are somehow serving the needs of humanity.
These natural assets (‘the commons’) belong to everyone and any stewardship should be carried out in the common interest by local people assisted by public institutions and governments acting on their behalf, not by private transnational corporations driven by self-interest and the maximization of profit by any means possible.
Common ownership and management of these assets embodies the notion of people working together for the public good. However, these resources have been appropriated by national states or private entities. For instance, Cargill captured the edible oils processing sector in India and in the process put many thousands of village-based workers out of work; Monsanto conspired to design a system of intellectual property rights that allowed it to patent seeds as if it had manufactured and invented them; and India’s indigenous peoples have been forcibly ejected from their ancient lands due to state collusion with mining companies.
Those who capture essential common resources seek to commodify them — whether trees for timber, land for real estate or agricultural seeds — create artificial scarcity and force everyone else to pay for access. Much of it involves eradicating self-sufficiency.
Traditional systems attacked
Researchers Marika Vicziany and Jagjit Plahe note that for thousands of years Indian farmers have experimented with different plant and animal specimens acquired through migration, trading networks, gift exchanges or accidental diffusion. They note the vital importance of traditional knowledge for food security in India and the evolution of such knowledge by learning and doing, trial and error. Farmers possess acute observation, good memory for detail and transmission through teaching and storytelling. The very farmers whose seeds and knowledge have been appropriated by corporations to be bred for proprietary chemical-dependent hybrids and now to be genetically engineered.
Large corporations with their seeds and synthetic chemical inputs have eradicated traditional systems of seed exchange. They have effectively hijacked seeds, pirated germ plasm that farmers developed over millennia and have ‘rented’ the seeds back to farmers. Genetic diversity among food crops has been drastically reduced. The eradication of seed diversity went much further than merely prioritising corporate seeds: the Green Revolution deliberately sidelined traditional seeds kept by farmers that were actually higher yielding and climate appropriate.
Across the world, we have witnessed a change in farming practices towards mechanised industrial-scale chemical-intensive monocropping, often for export or for far away cities rather than local communities, and ultimately the undermining or eradication of self-contained rural economies, traditions and cultures. We now see food surpluses in the West and food deficit areas in the Global South and a globalised geopoliticised system of food and agriculture.
A recent article on the People’s Archive of Rural India website highlights how the undermining of local economies continues. In a region of Odisha, farmers are being pushed towards a reliance on (illegal) expensive genetically modified herbicide tolerant cotton seeds and are replacing their traditional food crops.
The authors state that Southern Odisha’s strength lay in multiple cropping systems, but commercial cotton monoculture has altered crop diversity, soil structure, household income stability, farmers’ independence and, ultimately, food security. Farmers used to sow mixed plots of heirloom seeds, which had been saved from family harvests the previous year and would yield a basket of food crops. Cotton’s swift expansion is reshaping the land and people steeped in agroecological knowledge.
The article’s authors Chitrangada Choudhury and Aniket Aga note that cotton occupies roughly 5 per cent of India’s gross cropped area but consumes 36 to 50 per cent of the total quantum of agrochemicals applied nationally. They argue that the scenario here is reminiscent of Vidarbha between 1998 and 2002 – initial excitement over the new miracle (and then illegal) Bt cotton seeds and dreams of great profits, followed by the effects of their water-guzzling nature, the huge spike in expenses and debt and various ecological pressures. Vidarbha subsequently ended up as the epicentre of farmer suicides in the country for over a decade.
Choudhury and Aga echo many of the issues raised by Glenn Stone in his paper ‘Constructing Facts:Bt Cotton Narratives in India’. Farmers are attracted to GM cotton via glossy marketing and promises of big money and rely on what are regarded as authoritative (but compromised) local figures who steer them towards such seeds. There is little or no environmental learning by practice as has tended to happen in the past when adopting new seeds and cultivation practices. It has given way to ‘social learning’, a herd mentality and a treadmill of pesticides and debt. What is also worrying is that farmers are also being sold glyphosate to be used with HT cotton; they are unaware of the terrible history and reality of this ‘miracle’ herbicide, that it is banned or restricted in certain states in India and that it is currently at the centre of major lawsuits in the US.
All this when large agribusiness concerns wrongly insist that we need their seeds and proprietary chemicals if we are to feed a growing global population. There is no money for them in traditional food cropping systems but there is in undermining food security and food sovereignty by encouraging the use of GM cotton and glyphosate or, more generally, corporate seeds.
Across the world, the Green Revolution dovetailed with an international system of chemical-dependent, agro-export mono-cropping and big infrastructure projects (dams) linked to loans, sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF directives, the outcomes of which included a displacement of the peasantry, the consolidation of global agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries into food deficit regions.
Often regarded as Green Revolution 2.0, the ‘gene revolution’ is integral to the plan to ‘modernise’ Indian agriculture. This means the displacement of peasant farmers, further corporate consolidation and commercialisation based on industrial-scale monocrop farms incorporated into global supply chains dominated by transnational agribusiness and retail giants. If we take occurrences in Odisha as a microcosm, it would also mean the undermining of national food security.
Although traditional agroecological practices have been eradicated or are under threat, there is a global movement advocating a shift towards more organic-based systems of agriculture, which includes providing support to small farms and an agroecology movement that is empowering to people politically, socially and economically.
In his final report to the UN Human Rights Council after a six-year term as Special Rapporteur, in 2014 Olivier De Schutter called for the world’s food systems to be radically and democratically redesigned. His report was based on an extensive review of recent scientific literature. He concluded that by applying agroecological principles to the design of democratically controlled agricultural systems we can help to put an end to food crises and address climate-change and poverty challenges. De Schutter argued that agroecological approaches could tackle food needs in critical regions and could double food production in 10 years. However, he stated that insufficient backing seriously hinders progress.
And this last point should not be understated. For instance, the success of the Green Revolution is often touted, but how can we really evaluate it? If alternatives had been invested in to the same extent, if similar powerful and influential interests had invested in organic-based models, would we now not be pointing to the runaway successes of organic-based agroecological farming and, importantly, without the massive external costs of a polluted environment, less diverse diets, degraded soils and nutrient deficient food, ill health and so on?
The corporations which promote chemical-intensive industrial agriculture have embedded themselves deeply within the policy-making machinery on both national and international levels. From the overall bogus narrative that industrial agriculture is necessary to feed the world to providing lavish research grants and the capture of important policy-making institutions, global agri-food conglomerates have secured a perceived thick legitimacy within policy makers’ mindsets and mainstream discourse. The integrity of society’s institutions have been eroded by corporate money, funding and influence, which is why agroecology as a credible alternative to corporate agriculture remains on the periphery.
But the erosion of that legitimacy is underway. In addition to De Schutter’s 2014 report, the 2009 IAASTD peer-reviewed report, produced by 400 scientists and supported by 60 countries, recommends agroecology to maintain and increase the productivity of global agriculture. Moreover, the recent UN FAO High Level Panel of Experts concludes that agroecology provides greatly improved food security and nutritional, gender, environmental and yield benefits compared to industrial agriculture.
Writer and academic Eric Holtz-Gimenez argues that agroecology offers concrete, practical solutions to many of the world’s problems that move beyond (but which are linked to) agriculture. In doing so, it challenges – and offers alternatives to – plunder which takes place under a prevailing system of doctrinaire neoliberal economics that in turn drives a failing model of industrial agriculture.
The Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology by Nyeleni in 2015 argued for building grass-root local food systems that create new rural-urban links, based on genuine agroecological food production. It went on to say that agroecology should not become a tool of the industrial food production model but as the essential alternative to that model. The Declaration stated that agroecology is political and requires local producers and communities to challenge and transform structures of power in society, not least by putting the control of seeds, biodiversity, land and territories, waters, knowledge, culture and the commons in the hands of those who feed the world.
It involves prioritising localised rural and urban food economies and small farms and shielding them from the effects of rigged trade and international markets. It would mean that what ends up in our food and how it is grown is determined by the public good and not powerful private interests driven by commercial gain and the compulsion to subjugate farmers, consumers and entire regions.
Whether in Europe, Africa, India or the US, agroecology can protect and reassert the commons and is a force for grass-root change. This model of agriculture is already providing real solutions for sustainable, productive agriculture that prioritise the needs of farmers, citizens and the environment.
Much of the following article is based on a new 20-page report by environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason. Readers are urged to access the full report containing all relevant citations here.
In a new paper published in King’s Law Journal — ‘The Chemical Anthropocene: Glyphosate as a Case Study of Pesticide Exposures’ — the authors Alessandra Arcuri and Yogi Hale Hendlin state:
As the science against glyphosate safety mounts and lawsuits threaten its chemical manufacture’s profits, the next generation of GMO crops are being keyed to the pesticide dicamba, sold commercially as XtendiMax® – and poised to be the next glyphosate. Regulatory agencies have historically been quick to approve products but slow to reconsider regulations after the decades of accumulated harms become apparent.
They add that the entrenched asymmetries between public and ecological health and fast-to-market new chemicals is exacerbated by the seeming lack of institutionalised precautionary policies.
According to environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason, these ‘entrenched asymmetries’ result from the corporate capture of key policy-making bodies and their subversion by agri-food oligopolies.
Such collusion comes as little surprise to Mason who says the government’s ‘strategy for UK life sciences’ is already dependent on funding from pharmaceutical corporations and the pesticides industry:
Syngenta’s parent company is AstraZeneca. In 2010, Syngenta and AstraZeneca were represented on the UK Advisory Committee on Pesticides and the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Foods, Consumer Products and the Environment. The founder of Syngenta, Michael Pragnell CBE, was the Chairman of Cancer Research UK (CRUK) from 2011-2017. CRUK started by giving money (£450 million/year) to the Government’s Strategy for UK Life Sciences and AstraZeneca provided 22 compounds to academic research to develop medicines. AstraZeneca manufactures six different anti-cancer drugs mainly aimed at breast and prostate cancer.
It seems like a highly profitable and cozy relationship between the agrochemical and pharmaceutical sectors and the government at the expense of public health.
Mason states that pesticides have been conveniently kept off the public health agenda: people are being blamed for obesity and rising rates of illness because of lifestyle choices. Because ‘loosely’ regulated and unmonitored pesticides continue to proliferate, she says that each year there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers in the UK and increases in deaths from the same cancers, with no treatments making any difference to the numbers.
However, it is not just human health that is at risk from pesticides.
In 2010, Dutch toxicologist Henk Tennekes described neonicotinoid insecticides as an unfolding disaster. In his book The Systemic Pesticides: a Disaster in the Making, he catalogued a tragedy of monumental proportions regarding the loss of invertebrates and subsequent losses of the insect-feeding (invertebrate- dependent) bird populations in all environments in the Netherlands.
The disappearance can be related to agriculture in general, and to the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid in particular, which is a major contaminant of Dutch surface water since 2004. The relationship exists because there are two crucial (and catastrophic) disadvantages of the neonicotinoid insecticides: they cause damage to the central nervous system of insects that is virtually irreversible and cumulative. There is no safe level of exposure, and even minute quantities can have devastating effects in the long term; they leach into groundwater and contaminate surface water and persist in soil and water chronically exposing aquatic and terrestrial organisms to these insecticides. So, what, in effect, is happening is that these insecticides are creating a toxic landscape, in which many beneficial organisms are killed off.
From Rachel Carson back in 1962 with her book Silent Spring to more recent researchers, governments have been warned about the catastrophic effects of pesticides but have continued to capitulate to industry interests.
Mason counts the costs of these unheeded warnings. In 2017, scientists in Germany found three quarters of flying insects had vanished in 25 years in protected habitats surrounded by intensively farmed land. It was predicted that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon” and profound impacts would be felt by human society.
In France, scientists have revealed a massive decline in bird populations. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects which they depend on for food have disappeared.
This global insect apocalypse is largely the result of intensive agriculture and pesticide usage. According to Mason, one of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death. Such cascading effects have already been seen in Puerto Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.
The demise of insects appears to have started at the dawn of the 20th century, accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s and reached alarming proportions over the last two decades.
Mason refers to documents that reveal the EU bowed to demands of pesticide lobbies and created SAPEA (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies) which she says is “a committee of corrupt individuals that would actually increase sales of pesticides.”
She notes that the environmental group Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN) has obtained over 600 documents showing top EU officials fighting to “cripple” the bloc’s pesticide protection legislation. They show top officials trying to protect chemical and farming interests (and profits) from incoming European rules that were expected to directly ban up to 32 endocrine disrupting (EDC) pesticides. Mason concludes that current EU legislation is set up in favour of the pesticides industry.
In discussing the failure of regulators to keep hazardous chemicals from polluting our wildlife, food, air and drinking water. Mason cites several studies and reports and concludes that thousands of chemicals have entered the food system. Their long-term, chronic effects have been woefully understudied and their health risks inadequately assessed.
It is worrying to think that, globally, sales of synthetic chemicals are to double over the next 12 years with alarming implications for health and the environment if governments continue to fail to rein in the plastics, pesticides and cosmetics industries. The second Global Chemicals Outlook (2019) says the world will not meet international commitments to reduce chemical hazards and halt pollution by 2020. In fact, industry has never been more dominant nor has humanity’s dependence on chemicals ever been as great.
Global agricultural corporations have been severely criticised by Hilal Elver, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. A report presented to the UN human rights council in 2017 was severely critical of the global corporations that manufacture pesticides, accusing them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions”.
Elver says many of the pesticides are used on commodity crops, such as palm oil and soy, not the food needed by the world’s hungry people: “The corporations are not dealing with world hunger,” she says, despite industry propaganda which claims it and its chemicals are necessary for feeding the world. This is simply not true. Numerous high-level reports say that agroecology can feed the world healthily and sustainably.
At the Royal Society of Medicine Conference on pesticides safety, the late Peter Melchett presented alarming figures from official sources. The number of active ingredients applied to wheat had risen 12-fold from 1.7 in 1974 to 20.7 in 2014; that those applied to potatoes had risen 5.8 times from 5.3 in 1975 to 30.8 in 2014; that those applied to onions and leeks had risen 18-fold from 5.3 in 1975 to 30.8 in 2014. Pesticides are tested individually but no one tests the cocktail of pesticides to which humans and the environment are exposed.
The Chief Scientist for the UK’s Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Professor Ian Boyd has pointed out that once a pesticide is approved there is no follow up.
Moreover, Dr Michael Antoniou, head of the Gene Expression and Therapy Group at King’s College London, told a Royal Society of Medicine conference that the adjuvants in commercial pesticide formulations can be toxic in their own right and in some cases more toxic than the declared active ingredients. Yet only the active ingredients are tested and assessed for long-term health effects in the regulatory process. He also said that research on hormone-disrupting chemicals, including pesticides, shows that very low realistic doses can be more toxic than higher doses.
Nevertheless, Dave Bench, head of UK Chemicals Regulation Division, has described the regulatory system for pesticides as robust and as balancing the risks of pesticides against the benefits to society. Does this mean balancing industry profits against public interest on a set of scales heavily weighted in favour of the former?
Glyphosate in the dock
Hilal Elver has stated that to address the pesticides issue, we must deal with the corporations pushing them. And this is not lost on Mason who documents Monsanto’s dirty tactics to keep its multi-billion-dollar money-spinner glyphosate-based Roundup on the market.
Bayer CEO Werner Bauman has told his top-tier investors that Bayer had performed an adequate due-diligence on Monsanto before purchasing the company for $66 billion. At the time of its purchase, Monsanto told its German suitors that a $270-million set-aside would cover all its outstanding liabilities arising from Monsanto’s 5,000 Roundup cancer lawsuits.
But Bauman has conceded to anxious shareholders that Monsanto had withheld internal papers relevant to the case. Bayer never saw those internal Monsanto documents prior to the purchase.
Robert F Kennedy, co-counsel to Baum Hedlund Law, which is representing nearly 800 people in the US who allege Roundup exposure caused their non-Hodgkin lymphoma, says that it was no surprise that Monsanto kept secrets from Bayer.
He notes that Dewayne Johnson’s jury heard evidence that for four decades Monsanto maneuvered to conceal Roundup’s carcinogenicity by capturing regulatory agencies, corrupting public officials, bribing scientists and engaging in scientific fraud to delay its day of reckoning. The jury found that these activities constituted “malice, fraud and oppression” warranting $250 million in punitive damages.
Perhaps more ominously for Bayer, Monsanto also faces cascading scientific evidence linking glyphosate to a constellation of other injuries that have become prevalent since its introduction, including obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease, brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts. Strong science suggests glyphosate is the culprit in the exploding epidemics of celiac disease, colitis, gluten sensitivities, diabetes and non-alcoholic liver cancer which, for the first time, is attacking children as young as 10.
“Researchers peg glyphosate as a potent endocrine disruptor, which interferes with sexual development in children. The chemical compound is certainly a chelator that removes important minerals from the body, including iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium and molybdenum. Roundup disrupts the microbiome destroying beneficial bacteria in the human gut and triggering brain inflammation and other ill effects.
Kennedy states that glyphosate now accounts for about 50% of all herbicide use in the US. About 75% of glyphosate use has occurred since 2006, with the global glyphosate market projected to reach $11.74 billion by 2023. He adds that never in history has a chemical like glyphosate been so pervasive. It is in our air, water, plants, animals, grains, vegetables and meats. It’s in beer and wine, children’s breakfast cereal and snack bars and mother’s breast milk. It’s even in our vaccines.
The issues outlined here are not confined to Europe, the UK or the US. From Argentina to India, the agri-food industry is subverting public institutions and adversely impacting diets, food, public health and the environment.
Regardless of a rapidly emerging health and environmental apocalypse, unrestrained capitalism reigns, profits trump public interest and its business as usual.
It’s a modest apartment in Newport where I sit with Susan Swift to go over “quite the life” as any listener might say about this feisty, spiritual and articulate, world-traveling woman.
The hitching post Susan and I tie our respective philosophical steeds on is “philosophy” and “fate,” although we could have brought in a whole team of other steeds to pull the conversation toward all spiritual directions.
“I know what is mine to do,” the 73-year-old Swift states early on in our talk. Since her life here on the coast — Five Rivers first — not only started in 1972 as a search for environmental justice, she also fell into a what would be a life-long walkabout as a student of karma, Dharma and the meaning of interconnected “souls.”
Before the Central Coast mountains, Waldport, Seal Rock and Newport, Susan was living the Southern California lifestyle in Compton.
The Alsea basin seems worlds away from her birthplace of Inglewood. Quickly, though, she and her husband and a whole slew of residents became embroiled in cloak and dagger drama, rising to the level of the US Forest Service spraying chemicals on their land, Dow Chemical and their lawyers attempting to wear down citizens’ groups, bugged telephones, and various sundry nefarious things unfolding in a seemingly isolated rural community.
One of Susan’s cohorts has already been featured in my column Deep Dive — Carol Van Strum. For more information on those battles with toxics, bad science and broken promises by officials breaking the rule of protecting public health, safety and welfare, read Oregon Coast TODAY, “A Real-Life Toxic Avenger.”
Sometimes a young life lived produces an amazingly detailed and complex life, for sure. However, in the end, when a journalist runs into a person like Swift, with seven-plus decades under her belt, a series of floodgates open up.
Toxins, Dirty Water, Building Family
Sure, Citizens Against Toxic Sprays is a big part of her foundation, 45 years ago when she was living in the woods, in a teepee and a small shack with Calvin Parker, husband number two (one of three, but who’s counting), and her son Joe Lund from a previous marriage.
C.A.T.S. was created with the organizing skills of Susan and others in the rural community, propelled by fear — the debilitating, permanent and deadly harm being perpetrated by officials and for-profit companies upon adults, children, pets, penned animals, wildlife and drinking water through herbicide spraying.
There’s plenty of newspaper copy and radio clips on Susan’s life out here, her singing, putting on events for the legal battle against the chemical companies and their spraying ways; her work on the Lincoln County Planning Commission and other issues tied to public health. She’s been featured in a November 23, 1980 article in Salem’s Statesman Journal.
What anchors much of what I see while talking with Susan (and in reporting on the people of this area) is best captured in one short passage from that article about Susan written by Kristine Rosemary with the Statesman Journal:
Now, to make any sense of the art of diplomacy as practiced in the hidden rural valleys and insulated towns of the Oregon Coast Range, you must consider this: It is a place of overlapping generations of emigrants, each with its own notions of how to live with the land. Rain and shards of Chinese-looking mists blow into those hollows in a thrashing wind. And writhing vines of domestic blackberry gone feral make a slow triumph of thorns. The children of homesteaders who came to farm these fertile valleys were joined 50 years after, by a second wave of urban exiles.
An emblematic quote and a microcosm of what this Oregon Coast now faces with population influxes, lack of affordable housing, more pollution to contend with, climate change and shifting economic, cultural and generational baselines. What is left out even in this Statesman Journal’s prescient description is what’s not included so many times in countless articles — who was here first.
The Siuslaw and Kuitsh people began settling the coast more than 9,000 years ago. They have probably lived in the same locations for hundreds of generations.
Who knows if that paper mill, hotel or housing development was built on an ancient significant site? Or on top of sacred burial grounds, or over summer root-picking fields or a shaman’s spiritual place?
Coast as Healing Center
Susan Swift, RN, formerly known as Mrs. Parker, Swedish massage therapist, is keenly aware of Native American history as her daughter, Autumn Rayne, is part Cheyenne. What has been germinated from those early days in Five Rivers, then in Waldport, and then to the Valley and even Portland, is a determined septuagenarian who has lived on a wildlife refuge in India, ended up in Egypt on a spiritual journey and has met the Dali Lama.
There are stories layered onto life lessons, like shoots on an old fig tree. Her past, Susan says, is her journey forward. She’s helped Mo and her husband (of the Oregon Coast’s famed seafood and chowder restaurants, Mo’s) get through the last days of their lives as their in-home certified care taker. She’s played guitar and sang with husband number three — musician and instrument maker, and she’s chased elephants out of her garden of succulents.
Iterations of her life include head of the Lincoln County Planning Commission, nursing school, working at a mental health unit in Portland, and now writing, which she’s recently pursued in a memoir workshop at the senior center.
The coast is the healing breath she takes with her wherever she ventures. Susan believes she has past lives (that we all do) to account for and to make amends with, as well as to understand in order to carry forth on a pathway to enlightenment. Ironically, Susan Swift says her gift of energy empathy and nursing came at a young age: “I first learned my hands could take away pain when I was 10 years old.”
Every thought you produce, anything you say, any action you do, it bears your signature.
— Thích Nh?t H?nh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist
Do what you love because the universe will support you. Speak and say what you want.
Be specific. Then get out of the way and let the universe take care of the details.
— Susan Swift, July 8, 2019
She laughs because her prayers for a partner were answered, but she wasn’t specific enough — “I didn’t mention that partner should be on the same continent.” That spiritual partner was living in India.
She went to India for a workshop with 45 people from 15 countries. That’s where she met this tall, dark handsome Reiki master. “He was raised Muslim, and I was raised Christian, and we came to the same spiritual place, looking for the same spiritual answers.” That was in 2005. She returned to the USA and had a spiritual awakening with him over the years — sharing emails, letters, phone calls.
“In 2010, I retired, closed up the Vancouver house, put everything I owned into my son’s house in Covington, Washington.” She spent a total of four years in India, on a wildlife refuge: Mudamalli Wildlife Refuge in Tamil Nadu. Her partner was Nijamudeen. Susan was “totally embraced by this huge Muslim family.”
Her travails get complicated as Susan courses back and forth through her own chronological history and these many points of enlightenment in her 73 years. She has a thousand stories floating around her cranium. I fill pages and pages of notes.
How she got to India, with her healing touch on a dog that had been attacked by a black panther, covers all levels of spiritual and geographical ground. She went to Egypt in 2003 on a prayer for peace journey with 250 people from 25 nations. She talks excitedly about going down the Nile and to a resort on the Red Sea. She talks about the guides and hotel charges playing the song, “Imagine” by John Lennon, wherever they went since the tour’s theme was taken from the songwriter’s famous piece.
The trip was part of a far-reaching international push to get George W. Bush and his administration to hold off on a violent attack on Iraq, to instead follow international players’ plans to get Saddam Hussein to agree to step down with loads of money.
“I told an Egyptian woman that this was my first use of a passport as an American, and I was ashamed and told her I couldn’t handle it. She held me and told me calmly: ‘America is the world’s great hope for democracy and freedoms. We understand that your president was appointed by the court and wasn’t elected by the people of your country.’”
The Enlightened Being is Really Inside Our “self”
Now rewind to 1982, and Susan Parker is headed for Seaside, to catch a talk by the Dali Llama concerning China’s latest offer to return Tibet to China. “It was quite an entourage. I was at the greeting line. Oh my gosh, there I was telling the Dali Llama I was so honored and most joyful about his visit, with my sandalwood mala in my hand. He leaned in and bonked third eyes with me.”
A life is not always marked out with milestones set forth in an organized and clear path, but for the sake of brevity, it might be wise to follow our Central Coast resident using a timeline to get through some of her dynamic, compelling life chapters.
She grew up in a working-class family in Compton, and as stated earlier, she knew she had healing hands as a youngster placing them on her mom’s two ruptured spinal discs. The young Susan wanted to be outside playing baseball, “but my hands seemed to know what to do with the muscle spasms the size of my fists.”
Those healing hands more than five decades later would take care of a large tumor on Nami (Namaste), the Basenji dog in India she adopted, and used her healing words to help Gemmee, who has his shoulder gashed after it had outrun a black panther. “Nami never barked, just commented about everything in this yodeling song.”
Back to the Land on the Lam
Back to how she ended up in Five Rivers — she was with Calvin Parker, a Northern Montana Cheyenne she met in Pasadena. He was a sergeant in the US Army, about to be sent to Vietnam. He ended up AWOL, and the couple moved to Five Rivers where his sister was living in an old school house.
They lived in a 15-by-30, cold-water shack heated by a wood-burning-stove. “During this time, I was dreaming of a dark-haired, light-eyed girl.” (which eventually was their daughter, Autumn Rayne)
Susan ended up taking minutes for the local school committee. She found an old mimeograph machine and put together the Five Rivers Run-off Community Newsletter, stuffing flyers into mailboxes. That’s when she took notice of the herbicides issue popping up in editorials inside the Newport News Times.
“I hadn’t gone to school at that point, but I created a health form survey, passing it out door to door, all the way from Highway 34 to the mill. So many miscarriages, tumors and cancers were reported.” That was 1974, and Susan Swift shakes her head as she tells me that a scientist from OSU still advocates there is nothing wrong with 2,4,5-T.
This community of mostly women fighting the forest service and prevailing conservative strains of science worked together to build their adopted family on many levels. Susan laughs again recalling she was living in a teepee with two kids before getting her first place in Waldport. She was a single mom with a three- and 11-year-old. “They were exposed to musicians and artists coming and going all the time.” Joseph Lund graduated from Waldport High in 1985, and did the first video yearbook for the school.
She became an EMT-in-training for the Waldport Ambulance, graduating as the first woman to drive the ambulance. She ended working at a spa in Yachats. In 1978 she was lecturing at Lane Community College teaching different classes on the health effects of herbicide exposure, chemical releases in forestry and the dioxin molecule, diagramming it on the board, showing students how it worked.
She moved into her first house in Seal Rock, and put out her first shingle, “Susan Parker, LMT,” above a Waldport barbershop. The place became a center for healing. Transpersonal healing, encounters with lives, and more would begin to charge her life and encompass her interests.
“No matter what you believe, doing things out of compassion for others is as healing as we can get.”
She moved to Newport in the 1980s, at this point managing the Ocean Food Co-op. She was one of the spearheads to create an Oceana board of directors, hire a paid bookkeeper and charge a $10 yearly fee.
She met Husband Number Three at an open mic session at a local bar and eatery in Waldport. He was a guitarist and “amazingly gifted instrument maker.”
“I bought a guitar for twenty-five dollars cash and twenty-five in food stamps. I taught myself guitar and sang the songs I wanted to sing . . . positive ones. That’s when he said, ‘I like your voice.’” The marriage lasted one and a half years, but they are still friends.
With a belief in past lives, Susan takes many things both in stride and contextualized through transpersonal psychology, but she also has both feet in the waters of transglobal spirituality and multiple contexts for enlightenment and “godliness.”
Healing & Being in the Right Place Spiritually
Fate, she calls it, or her life’s proscribed journey points. She even ended up getting the finances for nursing school after working hard to take care of Mo (Mohava Niemi) who she was with until Mo died in 1992, as well as taking care of Mo’s spouse, Dutch Niemi, until he too passed on.
Dutch (he was a Finnish fisherman) had always wanted to send a child in need to college, but instead after Susan’s healing ways and hearing all the people taking care of his medical needs tell Susan she was a born natural for RN school, Dutch came through. “Dutch said he wanted to help me. That $9,000 helped me pay off bills and made it possible to go to nursing school.”
She worked for Dutch on weekends while she was at Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis. That healing and spiritual medical caretaking continued after nursing school graduation. She worked for a Portland neurosurgeon for three years, and she worked with the Oregon State Mental Hospital Portland campus as the lead nurse for six.
Her first nursing job was at Corvallis Manor, but she also took her caring hands and gifted spirit of empathy to a group home for developmentally disabled adults, Portland’s Eliot House.
“I treated every patient as a precious soul.”
While there was a 20-year absence from Lincoln County between 1994 and 2014, the draw to this area has been strong. She has joined up with Lincoln County Community Rights which just celebrated the two-year anniversary of its successful effort to ban aerial spraying in Lincoln County.
She’s done some driving for Yaquina Cab, shuttling people to and from the hospital. In this interview, Susan and I gravitate back to her story and her natural gifts — her abilities to organize and to start things, and her deep well of beliefs around alternative healing, energy fields on the body, and reincarnation.
These are book-level ideas, sculpted around a life still in the making, but one lived complexly and with mindfulness: with the added hues and tones of adventure, unique healing and death and dying situations painted in. One can hope she will see the light and eventually put down in writing a life well-lived, one where young and old might learn new (or old) meditative and mediation practices.
In our vapid celebrity culture, which is obsessed with putting the limelight on the rich, famous, or infamous, an authentic woman’s gritty and universal story should be compelling, to say the least.
“We have a choice everyday how we think. What you focus on, expands. We can choose how to go through this life. We need to just get out of our own way and begin living.”
The information below and the quotes were taken from the 12-page report that accompanied Rosemary Mason’s recent open letter to the Chief Medical Officer to England, Sally Davies. It can be accessed here.
Campaigner and environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has written an open letter to the Chief Medical Officer of England, Sally Davies. In it, Mason states that none of the more than 400 pesticides that have been authorised in the UK have been tested for long-term actions on the brain: in the foetus, in children or in adults.
The UK Department of Health (DoH) has previously stated that pesticides are not its concern. But, according to Mason, they should be. She says that Theo Colborn’s crucial research in the early 1990s showed that endocrine disrupters (EDCs) were changing humans and the environment, but this research was ignored by officials. Glyphosate, the most widespread herbicide in the world, is an EDC and a nervous system disrupting chemical.
In a book published in 1996, Our Stolen Future: How Man-made Chemicals are Threatening our Fertility, Intelligence and Survival, Colborn (d. 2014) and colleagues revealed the full horror of what was happening to the world as a result of contamination with EDCs. There was emerging scientific research about how a wide range of these chemicals can disrupt delicate hormone systems in humans. These systems play a critical role in processes ranging from human sexual development to behaviour, intelligence and the functioning of the immune system.
In addition to glyphosate, EDCs include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). DDT, chlordane, lindane, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, toxaphene, heptachlor, dioxin, atrazine and dacthal.
The concentration of persistent chemicals can be magnified millions of times as they travel to the ends of the earth… Many chemicals that threaten the next generation have found their way into our bodies. There is no safe, uncontaminated place.
Mason says that Colburn predicted that this would involve sexual development and adds this is why certain people may be confused about their sexuality.
She says to Davies:
You were appointed as interim CMO by David Cameron in June 2010; you became the permanent holder in 2011. Was that once you had assured him of your loyalty by not mentioning pesticides?
She continues by saying:
You did not train as a specialist in public health but as a consultant haematologist, specialising in haemoglobinopathies. You joined the Civil Service in 2004 and became Chief Scientific Adviser to the Health Secretary. Did David Cameron instruct Tracey Brown OBE from Sense about Science, a lobby organisation for GMO crops, to be your minder? When the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published a paper saying that exposure to chemicals during pregnancy could damage the foetus, you and Tracey Brown publicly made fun of it.
After that I wrote to you about the Faroes Statement: in 2007, twenty-five experts in environmental health from eleven countries (including from the UK) met on the Faroes and contributed to this statement: ‘The periods of embryonic, foetal and infant development are remarkably susceptible to environmental hazards. Toxic exposures to chemical pollutants during these windows of increased susceptibility can cause disease and disability in infants, children and across the entire span of human life.’ You asked Dr John Harrison from Public Health England to write to me to reassure me that there was no evidence that it was true.
You made an announcement in 2011 that antibiotic resistance was an apocalyptic threat to humans and the issue should be added to the government’s national risk register of civil emergencies… When I informed you that one of glyphosate’s many actions was as an antibiotic, you ignored me. Dr Don Huber, a Plant Pathologist from Purdue University, Indiana, says that glyphosate is an antibiotic, an organic phosphonate, a growth regulator, a toxicant, a virulence enhancer and is persistent in the soil. It chelates (captures) and washes out the following minerals: boron, calcium, cobalt, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, nickel and zinc.
Mason doesn’t waste much time in drawing conclusions as to why her previous letters to Davies and other officials have been ignored or sidelined. She notes that between May 2010 and the end of 2013 the UK Department of Health alone had 130 meetings with representatives of industry and concludes that commercial interests are currently in control of key decisions about the public’s health.
In 2014, an open letter from America warned citizens, politicians and regulators in the UK and EU against adopting GM crops and glyphosate. It was endorsed by NGOs, scientists, anti-GM groups, celebrities, food manufacturers and others representing 60 million citizens in the US. Mason draws attention to the fact that the letter outlined eight independent papers describing environmental harm and six about the threat to human health.
But David Cameron, PM at the time, ignored it. The European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority also ignored it. Glyphosate was relicensed.
Mason asked relevant officials why the EFSA was regularly increasing the maximum residue levels of glyphosate in foods at the request of Monsanto but has received no reply.
Professor Philippe Grandjean, the leader of the conference that issued the ‘Faroes Statement’, released the book: Only One Chance: How Environmental Pollution Impairs Brain Development – and How to Protect the Brains of the Next Generation (2013). In reviewing the book, Theo Colbern said:
This book is a huge gift to humankind from an eminent scientist. Grandjean tells the truth about how we have been ruining the brain power of each new generation and asks if there are still enough intelligent people in the world today to reverse the problem. I cannot rid myself of the idea that too many brains have been drained and society is beyond the point of no return. We must learn from the follies and scandals that Grandjean reveals and stop the chemical brain drain before it is too late.
But pesticides are ignored
A key point that Mason wants to make to Davies is that lifestyle choices are not to blame for rising rates of diseases, cancer and obesity; these increases are the outcome of the toxic cocktails of pesticides and other chemicals we are consuming.
Mason says to Davies about the Chief Medical Officer for England’s 2019 annual report:
For your final report, you failed to mention many diseases afflicting people in the UK… You claim that you work independently and you are going to write about childhood obesity in September. But why did you collude with Cancer Research UK to blame the people for obesity?
Not only did David Cameron ignore the ‘Letter from America’, he also appointed Michael Pragnell, founder of Syngenta and former Chairman of CropLife International, to the board of Cancer Research UK in 2010. He became Chairman in 2011. As of 2015, CropLife International´s member list included BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, FMC Corp., Monsanto, Sumitomo and Syngenta. Many of these make their own formulated glyphosate.
Mason says to Davies:
CRUK, you, the Chief Medical Officer for England, and Public Health England, linked cancer to alcohol, obesity and smoking. You all blamed the people for ‘lifestyle choices’. Where is the scientific evidence for this?
Syngenta is a member of the European Glyphosate Task Force, which sought to renew (and succeeded) European glyphosate registration. Not surprisingly, Mason says, the CRUK website denies that there is any link between pesticides and cancer. Its website says the following about pesticides:
For now, the evidence is not strong enough to give us any clear answers. But for individual pesticides, the evidence was either too weak to come to a conclusion, or only strong enough to suggest a “possible” effect. The scientific evidence on pesticides and cancer is still uncertain and more research is needed in this area.
Mason refers to a survey commissioned by CRUK, ‘People lack awareness of link between alcohol and cancer’, but asks what credible scientific evidence is there that alcohol causes seven different types of cancer and that obesity causes 13 different types of cancer? She concludes, none, and writes that certain top scientists have questioned (ridiculed) the messages being conveyed to the public about alcohol use.
In the Observer and the Guardian in July 2019, CRUK took out half-page advertisements stating that obesity (in huge letters) is a cause of cancer. In a smaller box, it was stated that, like smoking, obesity puts millions of adults at greater risk of cancer. Bus stops and advertising hoardings were replete with black text on a white background. The adverts invited people to fill in the blanks and spell out OBESITY, asking the public to ‘Guess what is the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking’.
Mason notes that CRUK has also paid for many TV adverts, describing how it looks after people with cancer and encourages donations from the public. It claims to have spent £42 million on information and influencing in 2018.
She says that the Department of Health’s School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS) has residues of 123 different pesticides that seriously impact the gut microbiome. Mason states that obesity is associated with low diversity of bacteria in the microbiome and glyphosate destroys most of the beneficial bacteria and leaves the toxic bacteria behind. In effect, she argues (citing relevant studies) that Roundup (and other biocides) is a major cause of gross obesity, neuropsychiatric disorders and other chronic diseases including cancers, which are all on the rise, and adversely impacts brain development in children and adolescents.
She asks Davies:
Why did you not attend the meeting in the Houses of Parliament on Roundup? If you were away, you have hundreds of staff in the DOH or Public Health England that could have deputised for you. Dr Don Huber, Emeritus Professor of Plant Pathology at Purdue University, Indiana, and one of four experts on Roundup, spoke at a meeting in the House of Commons on 18th June 2014 on the dangers of Roundup. In what was one of the most comprehensive meetings ever held in Europe on Glyphosate and Roundup, experts from around the World gathered in London to share their expertise with the media, members of a number of UK political parties, NGO representatives and members of the general public. EXCEPT THAT NONE OF THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA WAS PRESENT, NOR THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH NOR PUBLIC HEALTH ENGLAND. They are protecting the pesticides industry.
Mason makes much of the very cosy relationship between the Murdoch media and successive governments in the UK and asks:
Roundup weed killer is present in all our foods: why does the UK media not want us to know?
She notes that women in the UK are being warned to cut back on sweet treats or risk cancer. Sally Davies says women are consuming “two biscuits too much each day” and should lose weight. Davies says obesity will surpass smoking as the leading cause of cancer in women by 2043. Last year, official figures revealed 30 per cent of women in the UK are overweight and 27 per cent are obese. Obesity levels across all genders have risen from 15 per cent to 26 per cent since 1993.
But as Mason has shown time and again in her reports and open letters to officials, pesticides (notably glyphosate) are a key driver of obesity. Moreover, type 2 diabetes is closely associated with being very overweight. According to NHS data, almost four in five of 715 children suffering from it were also obese.
Type 2 diabetes is a disaster for the child and their family and for the NHS,” says Graham MacGregor, a professor of cardiovascular health at Queen Mary University of London who is also the chair of the campaign group Action on Sugar. “If a child gets type 2 diabetes, it’s condemning them to a lot of complications of that condition, such as blindness, amputations and kidney disease,” he said. “These figures are a sign that we are in a crisis and that the government doesn’t seem to be taking action, or not enough and not quickly enough. The UK obesity levels now exceed those of the US.
I am one of the many British women in 2014-16 who were spending nearly 20 years of their life in poor health (19.3 years) while men spend just over 16 years in poor health. Spanish women live the longest, with UK longevity ranked 17th out of 28 EU nations, according to Public Health England’s annual health profile. Each year there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers in the UK and increases in deaths from the same cancers, with no treatments making any difference to the numbers.
Britain and America are in the midst of a barely reported public health crisis. These countries are experiencing not merely a slowdown in life expectancy, which in many other rich countries is continuing to lengthen, but the start of an alarming increase in death rates across all our populations, men and women alike. We are needlessly allowing our people to die early.
Environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has just written to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Chemicals Regulation Division (HSE) in the UK claiming that the glyphosate-based weed killer Roundup has poisoned her nature reserve in South Wales and is also poisoning people across the UK (she includes herself here, as she struggles with a neurodegenerative condition). She notes that the widespread spraying of glyphosate went against the advice of directive 2009/128/EC of the European parliament but was carried out at the behest of the agrochemicals industry.
Mason has sent a 24-page fully referenced document with her letter in support of her claims. It can be accessed in full here. What follows is a brief summary of just a few of the take-home points. There is a lot more in Mason’s document, much of which touches on issues she has previously covered but which nonetheless remain relevant.
The thrust of her open letter to these agencies is that glyphosate is a major contributory factor in spiralling rates of disease and conditions affecting the UK population. She also makes it clear that official narratives — pushed by the pesticides industry, the media and various key agencies — have deliberately downplayed or ignored the role of agrochemicals in this. Instead, the focus has been on the role of alcohol use and obesity, conveniently placing the blame on individual behaviour and the failure of people to opt for ‘healthy lifestyle’ choices.
Mason argues that Monsanto emails released into the public domain have revealed that Roundup was kept on the market by capturing regulatory agencies, corrupting public officials, bribing scientists and engaging in scientific fraud. In addition, she notes that documents show that the European Commission bowed to the demands of pesticide lobbies. Former PM David Cameron, Defra, the European Food Safety Authority, the European Commission and the European Chemicals Agency all ignored the warnings that GM crops and Roundup were hazardous to human health and the environment.
In the run-up to the relicensing of glyphosate in the EU, Mason states that in its analysis the Glyphosate Task Force omitted key studies from South America (where herbicide-tolerant GM crops are grown) that associate Roundup with cancer, birth defects, infertility, DNA damage and neurotoxicity. She refers to many studies in support of her claim that glyphosate is deleterious to human health and the environment. It is worth noting that the European Chemicals Agency has classified glyphosate as a substance causing serious eye damage and toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects.
Mason reserves a special place for Cancer Research UK (CRUK) in her letter, saying that the agency has been hi-jacked by the pesticides industry and has persuaded key figures in the medical establishment to repeat certain claims: that alcohol, cigarette smoking and obesity are the main causes of cancer. She argues that Monsanto and the US EPA have known for a long time that Roundup is carcinogenic.
CRUK recently made a bold statement about its vision to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured. However, Mason asserts this is fantasy for public consumption. She argues there are a huge number of cancers in the UK and their prevalence is increasing each year in tandem with the rising use of glyphosate and other agrochemicals.
Mason provides the statistics:
In the UK, there were 13,605 new cases of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2015 (and 4,920 deaths in 2016): there were 41,804 new cases of bowel cancer in 2015 (and 16,384 deaths in 2016); 12,547 new cases of kidney cancer in 2015 (and 4,619 deaths in 2016); 5,736 new cases of liver cancer in 2015 (5,417 deaths in 2016); 15,906 new cases of melanoma in 2015 (2,285 deaths in 2016); 3,528 new cases of thyroid cancer in 2015 (382 deaths in 2016); 10,171 new cases of bladder cancer in 2015 (5,383 deaths in 2016); 8,984 new cases of uterine cancer in 2015 (2,360 deaths in 2016); 7,270 cases of ovarian cancer in 2015 (4,227 deaths in 2016); 9,900 new cases of leukaemia in 2015 (4,712 deaths in 2016); 55,122 new cases of invasive breast cancer in 2015 (11,563 deaths in 2016); 47,151 new cases of prostate cancer in 2015 (11,631 deaths in 2016); 9,211 new cases of oesophageal cancer in 2015 (8,004 deaths in 2016); and 5,540 new cases of myeloma in 2015 (3,079 deaths in 2016); 2,288 new cases of testicular cancer in 2015 (57 deaths in 2016); 9,921 new cases of pancreatic cancer in 2015 (9,263 deaths in 2016); 11,432 new cases of brain cancer in 2015 (5,250 deaths in 2016); 46,388 new cases of lung cancer in 2015 (and 35,620 deaths in 2016). In the US in 2014 there were 24,050 new cases of myeloma.
Arguing that UK farmers are “drowning” their crops in pesticides, Mason notes that it is therefore not surprising that Pesticide Action Network UK’s analysis of the last 12 years of residue data (published by the Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food) shows there are unacceptable levels of pesticides present in the food provided through the Department of Health’s (DoH) School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS).
Residues of 123 different pesticides were found, some of which are linked to serious health problems such as cancer and disruption of the hormone system. Moreover, residues contained on SFVS produce were higher than those in produce tested under the national residue testing scheme (mainstream produce found on supermarket shelves). However, Mason says that when PAN-UK sent its findings to the DOH, the agency was told that pesticides are not the concern of the DoH.
Our children are growing up exposed to a toxic cocktail of weed killers, insecticides and fungicides. It’s on their food and in their water, and it’s even doused over their parks and playgrounds. Many governments insist that our standards of protection from these pesticides are strong enough. But as a scientist and a lawyer who specialises in chemicals and their potential impact on people’s fundamental rights, I beg to differ.
Paediatricians have referred to childhood exposure to pesticides as creating a ‘silent pandemic’ of disease and disability. Exposure in pregnancy and childhood is linked to birth defects, diabetes, and cancer. Because a child’s developing body is more sensitive to exposure than adults and takes in more of everything – relative to their size, children eat, breathe, and drink much more than adults – they are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals. Increasing evidence shows that even at ‘low’ doses of childhood exposure, irreversible health impacts can result.
Tuncak says that most victims cannot prove the cause of their disability or disease and this limits our ability to hold those responsible to account. But this is changing. The public is becoming increasingly aware of the industry’s criminal strategy for keeping Roundup on the market, thanks to the various high-profile litigations in the US. Maybe it’s time for the (taxpayer-funded) agencies Rosemary Mason has continually written to over the years to finally act in the public interest. Or would that be too much to expect?
In finishing, we should take note of the current orchestrated campaign (cheer-led by those outside of India with industry links) to get herbicide-tolerant seeds planted in India. Aside from Bt cotton, GM crops are not allowed in the country. This cynical campaign is aimed at increasing GM seed, glyphosate and other toxic agrochemical sales. Given increasingly saturated markets elsewhere, the global GM seed and herbicide industry regards India as a massive potential money spinner.
However, Punjab took the lead in 2018 and banned glyphosate. Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have since followed. But there is still no nationwide ban. With this in mind, author and academic Ashwani Mahajan has started a petition campaign (here) to stop the use of glyphosate in India.
He says that pesticide companies are taking advantage of farmers’ ignorance about the deadly risks associated with glyphosate. Mahajan notes that industry is sending its agents to approach farmers directly and trap them with attractive promotional offers. This is part of a wider strategy to get farmers to break with effective traditional practices and lure them onto agrochemical (and GMO) treadmills as described in the 2017 paper The Ox Fall Down: Path Breaking and Technology Treadmills in Indian Cotton Agriculture (Glenn Stone and Andrew Flachs).
Farmers are being subjected to slick PR and lured because they are told this herbicide is a cost-effective method to kill weeds quickly. What they are not told is that its effectiveness is limited, that it’s a health and environmental hazard and that it’s a risk to their lives. But it’s not just farmers’ lives that are at risk. We just need to look at the statistics provided earlier in this article to realise the risk to the wider public health.