Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Scientist Debate Food System

September 23, 2011

PARTICIPANTS:

SCIENTISTS:

Ken Cassman- Department Head Agronomy and Soils University of Nebraska

Don Boesch- President of The University of Maryland’s Horns Point Environmental Lab.

Dean Hively- USDA ARS Research Scientist

Tom Fisher- Horn Point Scientist and 25 year monitor of the Choptank watershed

Francis Thicke- Author, Iowa organic pasture dairy farmer and soils scientist

Russell Brinsfield- President of the University of Maryland’s Wye Agro-Ecology Center

Walter Willett- Nutrition Dept. Head- leader of Harvard’s long-term epidemiology studies

INITIATOR

DONALD KERSTETTER- Trappe Landing Farm & Native Sanctuary

CONCLUSIONS: Submitted by DRK for comments

It is important that we reach a consensus on the actions required to stop the nutrient contamination of rivers and estuaries and the excess production of food responsible for causing our epidemics of cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. This year 2011 we experienced near record oxygen dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay caused mostly by application of fertilizer particularly to corn and a glut of CAFO manure. We also experienced record sediment intrusion from unprotected farm fields into Chesapeake Bay. Also much has been written about the poor health of Americans and out of control health care cost. It is important that the scientific community including nutritionists and environmental scientists work together to find a strategy that works for all including the farmer who starts the food growing process in May of each year. The solution would be much simpler if we left out nutrition and the health of the American people. As Ken Cassman of the University of Nebraska points out improvement in nitrogen uptake efficiency of 20% has been achieved and with more research there is promise of further improvement. Cover crops will help uptake of excess nitrogen and will also help mitigate erosion and sediment intrusion. But as Walter Willett points out these environmental improvements will not solve the health issues which require a substantial reduction in corn based products including sugar and red meat and increases in fruits and vegetable consumption. A healthy American diet is outlined by Harvard’s “Healthy Plate” shown on their website http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/. This provides further definition of the USDA’s “My Plate” initiative. I hope we can all agree that healthy food produced in a way that protects the environment is the goal. Ken Cassman expressed concern that developing Countries will fill the void if the U.S. reduces its corn output and they will have less concern for world ecology, I believe many of these countries are equally concerned and will follow our lead. I base this opinion on the active involvement of China India and other developing Countries who our part of the World cancer study. This dialog points to the need for environmental and health scientists to work together to reach conclusions and recommendations. In my view the following mandatory actions implemented worldwide are required based on these discussions. May I have your comments please!

  1. Reduce nitrogen application rates to corn and beans by 50%.
  2. Require winter cover crops on all tilled farm fields
  3. Require the pyrolysis of all CAFO manure
  4. Ban the use of antibiotics and growth hormones in CAFO production
  5. *Require a representative of the Humane Society to monitor all CAFO and slaughterhouse operations to verify humane treatment of food animals.

*While we have not discussed #5, I believe that you would agree if you view a video of the horrible conditions in America’s CAFO’s and slaughterhouses. If you wish I will forward the video to you.

The primary objection to these Government actions will be corn yield loss. This will force farmers to seek revenues from higher value crops including a variety of vegetables, fruits and nuts. This will make these healthier products more available and help the USDA’s effort to increase consumption of these healthier foods as proposed by their “my plate “ initiative. Americans are suffering from an addiction to the very foods that are destroying their health. Demand for these unhealthy products will increase until the cost goes up which will happen as supply goes down and price goes up. The USDA must also implement an educational campaign to sell consumption of healthy food in addition to the 5 recommended actions. It has taken us decades to create this environmental and health disaster. It will likely take decades to correct.

 

I thank all who participated in this discussion.

DON KERSTETTER

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The Entitlement Dilema

August 27, 2011

We now see more and more evidence of the failure of Central Planning as proposed by Karl Marx. The failure of the Soviet Union is the outstanding National example. But the failure is now also apparent in many of the social entitlement programs started in the 1930’s. One outstanding regulatory failure is U.S. agriculture and food production.  The inherent diversity provided by small farms who produced food was destroyed by the USDA under Earl Butz in the 1960’s. Mr. Butz decided to subsidize grain farming which produces raw material for sugar, refined grains, and meat. Now 50 years later we have a food production system dominated by unhealthy food widely recognized as responsible for our epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and pathogen exposure plus a production system based on overuse of chemicals and short cuts in soil management and animal manure management responsible for the destruction of our soil, our rivers, and our estuaries including the Chesapeake Bay. Every regulation initiated by Government creates an entitlement constituency that invariably becomes all-powerful. The ultimate result of failed social entitlements is now evidenced by street violence in England, Grease, and Wisconsin. In the case of agriculture the American Farm Bureau, the Fertilizer Institute and the Corn Growers Association supported by captive educational institutions, have successfully resisted all efforts for change suggested by the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force, environmental organizations, schools of public health, and now the USDA’s “My Plate” healthy food initiative. We must learn from these entitlement disasters and establish an automatic sunset on every regulation. We must also elect leaders who are strong enough to overcome the pressure of special interest entitlement support groups in the public interest.

Support for Healthy Food

August 23, 2011

The USDA has a history of giving lip service to sustainable farming and healthy food production while giving cash subsidy and more importantly ignoring the soil management short cuts and overuse of chemicals, which are destroying our natural resources.

In 2000 the USDA/ SARE Program published a pamphlet titled “Exploring Sustainability in Agriculture” describing 10 profitable farms, which demonstrated the 8 elements of sustainability developed, by Cornell University’s Food and Nutrition Center. While this and other efforts did encourage many young farmers to adopt sustainable farming methods, older farmers which dominate agriculture supported by land Grant educational institutions refuse to acknowledge that their much touted industrial model has no ability to sustain itself longterm.

In 2008 three major Cancer Institutes, the Harvard School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health published studies connecting overconsumption of Industrial Food products to many cancers, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and antibiotic immunity. We have recently sent letters to 70 Senators, and Congressman asking them to stop supporting grain subsidies and more importantly the bad practices that support overproduction of unhealthy food. Please reinforce this effort by calling your representatives and ask them to support America’s health and natural resources. If you need names and phone numbers of key representatives please advise.

 

Big Chicken & Pollution-Pew Commission

August 2, 2011

The Pew Commission report on “Big Chicken and Pollution” was published on July 27, 2011 in the same week that near record oxygen dead zones were reported in the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. These two watersheds along with other adjacent Coastal Plain watersheds drain almost half of the U.S. land area. Chicken production dominates 15 States including 6 Gulf States and 3 C. Bay States. We have long recognized that both corn fed CAFO red meat and CAFO chicken production including over fertilization of corn used as CAFO feed is by far the Countries largest source of pollution but there were several surprises in this report. Both beef and pork consumption were reported as being down slightly over the last 20 years while chicken consumption was up substantially. With the exception of antibiotics, growth hormones, arsenic, and atrazine contamination this is good news for consumer health. It is bad news for water quality because chicken waste contains up to four times more nitrogen and phosphorous the leading elements causing pollution. While chicken CAFOs are only 15% of CAFO sites Nationwide they produce 60% of the manure pollution (see pg 13). The report is disappointing because it did not mention pyrolysis of animal waste nor pasture raised animals as  solutions not only for nutrient pollution but also for helping restore the Nations soil. Biochar, a product of pyrolysis, is an excellent soil supplement, which can help, sequester carbon, restore fertility and effectively reduce soil erosion. A recent report by the Soil and Water Conservation Society pointed to the planet’s soil as the largest sink of the world’s carbon. S.A. Khan (ref #50) pointed out that poor soil management practice is causing almost every Corn Belt State to leak soil carbon while scientists at Iowa State University and others report that half our corn belt soil has been lost. (See a new Vision for Iowa Agriculture by Francis Thicke PhD.)

Dead Zones, Obesity,Cancer, Heart Disease, ONE SOLUTION

July 28, 2011

Near record oxygen dead zones are expected before the summer concludes in both the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Dead zones are primarily caused by over use of fertilizer to grow field corn, which is used to feed animals in CAFOs, to produce sugar used for among other things sugary drinks. Almost 3 times (uptake efficiency of corn is .37) more fertilizer is applied to corn in a normal rainfall year than the crop can use, much more in a drought year. Fertilizer is also used extensively to produce refined grains. Last week it was announced that every State in the U.S. had reached an obesity rate exceeding 25% of the population. Dead Zones and obesity are directly connected since the products that use most of the Nations fertilizer in the production process are the same as those causing obesity (see video of Harvard U. report). In addition the CAFOs which produce red meat use most of the corn. Beef, pork, and lamb overconsumption plus processed meat is causing our epidemics of cancer and heart disease. It is past time to enact recommendations made in 2000 by the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force (see Texas A&M update) and reduce fertilizer application rates Nationwide. This will not only go a long way toward restoring our water resources but will help restore the Nation’s health.

Cooking Meat Cancer Cause?

July 15, 2011

Epidemiological studies including, the National Cancer Institute Study (our ref. # 16) and World Cancer Research Fund studies archived under cancer, have established that there is a relationship between red meat and processed meat consumption and the risk of certain cancers but the biological mechanism underlying this association has yet to be established.  A recent study by the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University looks at two known carcinogens produced by cooking meat as a possible cause. Click here for the study .

More On Harvard’s Obesity Study

July 9, 2011

The most surprising finding to the writer was that sugary drinks, refined grains, and meat were all equal negative factors to long- term weight gain. While it was expected that sugary drinks were problematic, I did not expect that hamburger rolls, white bread, pasta, pizza, and the hamburger patty itself were equal causes of obesity. The study did not differentiate between red meat and chicken. I contacted Walter Willett the head of the department of nutrition and epidemiology who said that definitely all meats and all vegetables were not equal and that they would publish a clarification paper shortly.

A local dentist has been involved in the study since 1986. He reports that the attention to detail is incredible. The School often calls him after he fills out his questionnaire every 4 years to clarify detail. This is impressive to him considering there are 121,000 participants.

Mikulski & White respond

June 13, 2011

On April 21st I sent a letter to our Maryland Senators and the Chairmen of the Senate and House Agricultural Committees pointing to studies which show that corn based meat and sugar production and consumption is the primary cause of:

  1. Many cancers
  2. Heart disease
  3. Obesity
  4. Diabetes
  5. Depletion of our Nationwide soil asset
  6. Nutrient contamination of rivers and estuaries including the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico
  7. Cost of health care
  8. Primary cause of our out of control annual national expenses
  9. A major cause of our National Debt

I did hear back from Senator Mikulski who referred my letter to USDA. I received a letter from NRCS (Dave White), which claimed that nutrient pollution had declined but offered no backup to this assertion. He did offer a USDA/NRCS study, which shows that farm field erosion had improved by 43% since 1982. I asked Iowa soil scientist Francis Thicke if he agreed with this assessment. His response was that the consensus of the scientific community was that the Corn Belt has lost or displaced half its topsoil since agriculture began many years ago. He also stated that based on Iowa State University data the recent improvement cited by government officials were overstated. While the NRCS letter acknowledged my assertions on the health issues it did not offer any response to the issue. While Mr. Thicke refers to Mr. White as a “good guy” he is in a situation well beyond his power of influence.

While the NRCS has the bureaucratic responsibility to preserve our Natural Resources only an educated public and perhaps media attention will reduce meat and sugar consumption and reduce the adverse health and environmental affects.

USDA Abdicates Regulatory Responsibility

June 13, 2011

The USDA is failing to meet its regulatory responsibility in 3 areas that must be quite obvious to its scientists and professional staff. Someday this lack of regulatory responsibility will be the subject of a National debate as it is currently in the financial industry.

SOIL EROSION- USDA/SARE recently republished what might be considered a bible of soil management by Magdoff/Van Es. In the chapters on crop rotation and soil erosion the authors state that the lack of live roots in the ground during heavy rain events is the primary cause of massive soil erosion such as occurred in the Midwest in the Spring of 2008. The most dominant crop rotation is a 2-crop corn and soybean rotation which has live roots in the ground only 32% of the time. Increasing to a 3 crop rotation produces live roots 76% of the time. USDA must mandate an immediate increase preferably to a 3 crop rotation plus mandatory winter cover when heavy rains are likely.

The Gulf Hypoxia Report published by leading US scientific organizations in 2000 recommended a 20% reduction in commercial fertilizer application rates. Hypoxia in major Estuaries including Chesapeake Bay continues to increase as reported in the PBS Gulf update and by EPA nutrient load charts (see our blog under pages). USDA must immediately reduce current fertilizer application rates by at least 25%.

Farm animal waste from CAFO chickens, hogs and cattle must be managed as recommended in 2007 by the Pew Commission, an Industry Commission chaired by former Kansas Governnor and dairy farmer George Carlin. USDA has ignored this report and others which point to the massive damage caused by these facilities.

The excuse for lack of regulation of an out of control industry appears to be the higher cost and reduction of corn based products. The following is the opinion of Walter Willett head of the Nations largest academic nutrition department at Harvard University.
“Don – you will find common ground among nutritionists on the harmful effects of very cheap and large amounts of starch from subsidized corn in the US diet, which is the substrate for high fructose corn syrup, and very cheap sugary beverages and feedlot pork and red meat. While not the only contributors these are fueling our epidemics of obesity and diabetes.”

Rather than coming to grips with its failure to regulate the abuses of the Agricultural Industry the USDA continues to ask the taxpayer to fund these abuses by spending our tax money for grain subsidies. The 2012 farm bill is the time for USDA to correct this terrible and destructive injustice.

NRCS fails to protect Nations resources

June 13, 2011

On April 21st I sent a letter to our Maryland Senators and the Chairmen of the Senate and House Agricultural Committees pointing to studies which show that corn based meat and sugar production and consumption is the primary cause of:

  1. Many cancers
  2. Heart disease
  3. Obesity
  4. Diabetes
  5. Depletion of our Nationwide soil asset
  6. Nutrient contamination of rivers and estuaries including the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico
  7. Cost of health care
  8. Primary cause of our out of control annual national expenses
  9. A major cause of our National Debt

I did hear back from Senator Mikulski who referred my letter to USDA. I received a letter from NRCS (Dave White), which claimed that nutrient pollution had declined but offered no backup to this assertion. He did offer a USDA/NRCS study, which shows that farm field erosion had improved by 43% since 1982. I asked Iowa soil scientist Francis Thicke if he agreed with this assessment. His response was that the consensus of the scientific community was that the Corn Belt has lost or displaced half its topsoil since agriculture began many years ago. He also stated that based on Iowa State University data the recent improvement cited by government officials were overstated. While the NRCS letter acknowledged my assertions on the health issues it did not offer any response to the issue. While Mr. Thicke refers to Mr. White as a “good guy” he is in a situation well beyond his power of influence.

While the NRCS has the bureaucratic responsibility to preserve our Natural Resources only an educated public and perhaps media attention will reduce meat and sugar consumption and reduce the adverse health and environmental affects.