Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Musings: Playing Human

Nearly every day it seems a new study is published that underscores health risks associated with existing products and practices. Most recently, it's a pair of studies, published in the September issue of Pediatrics, that show a possible link between plastic packaging — specifically Bisphenol-A (BPA) to obesity and DEHP, a phthalate, to diabetes — and chronic health problems in kids.

Neither offers the “smoking gun” that federal regulators seem to require before they act, but what about common sense, taking steps to minimize risk wherever possible? And it is possible, because some manufacturers are already starting to use other compounds in response to consumer pressure.

But it's increasingly feeling like government and industry are operating from the premise that the price we will pay for cheap food, convenience, technology, transportation, medicine, packaging — in short, all the goodies hawked by Madison Avenue — is being bathed in a chemical cocktail from uterus to coffin. And if other species fall by the wayside, well, so be it.

As an example, a recent Time magazine article on the demise of honeybees contained this disturbing line:

There are more than 1,200 pesticides currently registered for use in the U.S.; nobody pretends that number will be coming down a lot. Instead, the honeybee and its various pests are more likley to be changed to fit into the existing agricultural system. Monsanto is working on an RNA-interference technology that can kill the Varroa mite by disrupting the way its genes are expressed. The result would be a species-specific self-destruct mechanism — a much better alternative than the toxic and often ineffective miticides beekeepers have been forced to use.

So you let the chemical companies try and “fix” the bees so they can conveniently sidestep the mounting evidence that pollen — the primary protein source for baby bees — is frequently loaded with systemic pesticides and fungicides. Is it any wonder that bees languish when they're poorly nourished and exposed to chemicals from inception, just like our kids?

Already, we learn, wild bees have pretty much died out in China due to pollution, and wild pollinators are on the ropes everywhere. Meanwhile, Harvard is experimenting with “robobees,” and there's talk that honey bees may become like the sad and literally sick “feedlot” chickens, pigs and cows that are fed a diet of GMOs and drugs, and then fed to us.

As is so typical of our species, we refuse to address the core problem and instead fixate on bandaids as mass media preps us to accept that things are going to be different, as in bye-bye biological diversity. Instead, we'll get the artificial “diversification” served up by the synthetic biology gang. 

They're the ones who want to bring back extinct species even though we're still actively engaged in behaviors that are driving thousands more species over the edge. Or clone some weird thing for novelty — read money-making — purposes. Or simply because they can, and if no one is stopping them, they will.

As an article on de-extinction in National Geographic noted:

And yet for [bioethicist Hank] Greely, as for many others, the very fact that science has advanced to the point that such a spectacular fear is possible is a compelling reason to embrace de-extinction, not to shun it.

Because science, of course, never fucks up. It always leads us down the primrose path, the one where there are no unforeseen consequences, no dangerous side effects, no horrible repercussions that underscore how little we really know about how the world works, right?

Which is not to say I'm anti-science. I respect it, but I don't revere it, because it's just another human construct. And that means it's subject to all the inherent failings and flaws of the human mind and ego that conceived and direct it.

Though the National Geographic article and others frequently couch the synthetic biology/cloning/genetic engineering discussion in terms of whether we're "playing God," I don't see it like that. It's very much playing human, which means we act first and think about the consequences, the big picture, later. Much later. If at all.


Anonymous said...

So the BPA is linked to obesity and all sorts of sexual dysfunction and abnormalities. It is an endocrine disruptor. It has epigenetic effects, i.e. it not only affects the woman, but her daughter and grand daughter. Yet it is now commonly found in human blood.

What amazed me is that it is found here in beach water! Don't know if this is just from human urine (animals don't drink bottled water) or maybe from fiberglass boat hulls and other marine debris. Think it has to be from humans in some of the places it is found. What is are effects on stream and marine life?

Anonymous said...

There's more detail on the proposed bee therapy here:

It isn't something that would be passed from generation to generation, it isn't genetic modification (it's more similar to an oral vaccination, although it isn't the usual sort of vaccine either), and it could rid bees of a very damaging introduced parasite. Which would mean that the use of miticides on bees could be reduced or eliminated.

I used to think that reductions in pesticide use would be generally regarded as a good thing, especially by those who claim to be acting in defense of the environment, but instead it seems as if every new technology with the potential to reduce pesticide use is vilified.

It's shortsighted to decide that every new technology must necessarily be more harmful than the technologies that are currently in widespread use; that doing nothing, resulting in the continuation of current practices like miticide use, is always morally superior to making any change.

Of course it's necessary to thoroughly investigate new technologies and check for any potential unintended consequences, but instead there are calls for moratoriums, for bans, for blocking research, for doing anything possible to stand in the way.

Some activists have gone so far as to break into research facilities and destroy experiments in progress, destroy lab notebooks, destroy data. These are not the actions of a movement that actually wants more investigation, more research, more data. They're the actions of a movement that wants more delay, more protests, more headlines, more fear, more donations.

Andy Parx said...

Reminds me of the old kids ditty...

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly
But I don't know why she swallowed the fly
Perhaps she'll die...
{ }
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat
She swallowed the cat to catch the mouse
She swallowed the mouse to catch the spider- that wriggled and jiggled and ticked inside her-
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly
But I don't know why she swallowed the fly
Perhaps she'll die.

Anonymous said...

Sentence first, verdict afterwards.
from Alice in Wonderland

What? no evidence? Hang 'em anyway.

Joan Conrow said...

Of course it's necessary to thoroughly investigate new technologies and check for any potential unintended consequences, but instead there are calls for moratoriums, for bans, for blocking research, for doing anything possible to stand in the way.

That's because new technologies AREN'T thoroughly vetted. And there's virtually no investigation into how technologies interact.

Some beekeepers are using natural products to control Varroa mites and there is also a movement afoot to breed hygenic queens whose offspring are resistant to the mite and other diseases.

It isn't a choice between "doing nothing" and embracing Monsanto as the bee savior.

Anonymous said...

I drove from lihue to mana and back again, I did not have a single bug on my windshield. Is that bad or good? It's kind of foreign and weird to me. Just does not make ecological sense.

Anonymous said...

Underlying so much of this is the notion of Citizens United case, that a corporation is a person. The problem is that a corporation only exists for profit. A real person may have a conscience.

The people who run these "corporate persons" are schooled since infancy that the corporation is governed only by profit and the free market or the law will be its only conscience.

When are we going to see this "market" wipe out the likes of Monsanto? Its probably too late IMHO.

When are we going to find an educated legislative body to write effective environmental laws, or a caring prosecutor who will charge corporations under some existing environmental crime theory?

Massive disruption to honeybees and human food supply and no one can think of a crime that fits? No one can pass a law.

But they won't go near anything "environmental" if there is even a chance that they might lose. Look at our council and the pesticide bill. A bunch of scared pussy corporate ass suckers, if you ask me.

Democracy these days sucks and we're all going to hell, especially our "Leaders".

Anonymous said...

Could it be that they are so bent on being the sole supplier of sustenance that they are inadvertently replacing the original source of food from nature, killing it off so there really will be no choice some day?

Just donʻt get it.

Why take something perfect then weaken it, infect it, endanger it, raise the price of it........ruin it?

Anonymous said...

Why take a planet that can easily support life as we know it for perhaps millions of years and knowingly poison the air, land and water that we need to survive?

Anonymous said...

Because "life as we know it" involves geopolitical agendas, over-population in part due to med science keeping people alive longer, an overall unwillingness to "just get along" and adopt the "we're all in this together" attitude, the fact that history has shown all forms of societal living structures existing on a mass scale have never solved all mankind's problems, and.....

Some people are just better than others and, in a meritocracy, actually deserve more.

The world of man is neither "fair" nor "equal". Never has been. Never will be.

Anonymous said...

It's called capitalism.

It is applied to a markedly high desire for and pursuit of wealth, status and power.

Anonymous said...

And yet communism, socialism, fascism, etc, didn't work either in the long run.

Anonymous said...

Human nature overall on the planet seeks its own level. Since I'm a proponent of the theory that mankind is basically bad but tries to do good rather than the other way around, I see, historically, failure in all the myriad forms of governmental, economic and social systems attempted to be applied to a large, country-size population.

Nobody wants a dictator. Nobody wants enforced redistribution of wealth/resources in an attempt to somehow "equalize" everyone.

There are segments of the population that, for nature or nurture reasons, are simply "better" than others at "getting by". Bigger or stronger or smarter or less prone to sickness, etc.

Everyone is not created equal and most do not want to be treated equally...especially the ones seeing themselves being held back by such enforced equality.

I believe mankind as a whole works as a meritocracy, regardless of the social structures imposed at the time. Sooner or later, the meritocracy principle wins out and destroys opposing social structures...and possibly even destroys itself, only to be rebuild again in slightly different form.

There will always be winners and losers...givers and takers.

Even in the USA, the constitution gives us the freedom to pursue happiness...not the guarantee of achieving it.

Anonymous said...

I'm a proponent of meritocracy as well. The "welfare state" thing has to be severely cut back. 35 states pay a person more for welfare than they could earn at low-level jobs, not just minimum wage jobs.

Maybe the world of "Oblivion" is coming. If so, I'd be on the space station and the movie ending wouldn't happen.

Anonymous said...

If the microcosm (or microcosmic, for you New Agers?) of society that is Kauai cannot solve it's problems, what do you expect of the rest of the world?

That mid-Pacific petri dish infected with all the hopes, fears, winners, losers and injustices is like a grand social experiment.

The worlds of "could be" and "should be" colliding with the world of "is" provides fascinating observation.

John Harding said...

Look at the facts regarding honeybees versus pesticides (neo-nic`s) from a professional beekeeper;

If it was neo-nic`s it would be local, only beehives within approximately 2 miles radius to that area where neo-nic`s are grown would die, not widespread across the whole country including Cities and National Parks.

Common sense indicates it would mean a neo-nic`s crop would have to be every four miles across the UK for at least 8 months of the year including our Cities and National Parks and yet honeybee colonies are dying within these boundaries due to another reason, and not pesticides.

Beehives within Common Moors or miles away from neo-nic`s would not be affected and yet they too, suffer.

Many of the lobbyists have an agenda for neo-nic`s ban, they are not beekeepers or have beekeeping at heart, who are using false claims in city beekeeping against rural beekeeping and yet if beekeepers were asked they would inform you of honeybee colonies dying in any environment.

France banned neo-nic`s in 2008 and yet the honeybee decline continues.

Bumblebees were used in laboratory tests NOT honeybees.

Laboratory tests overdosed the bumblebees with pesticides (neo-nic`s) now being flawed.

If science cannot prove a fact then an opinion is formulated so an assumption is made to what is happening to ALL bees in the wild.

When field tests were done it was found to be inconclusive.

Pollen tested from beehives near to neo-nic`s, only a millionth of a millionth was found on a pollen grain, this is not enough to give any honeybee an upset stomach rather than kill 80,000 honeybees in each of my colonies

BBC Countryfile interviewed all responsible for the above information and is available on BBC, i-Player.

The media is flawed in only reporting part of scaremongering assumptions of the original opinion therefore confusing the ill-informed public. When repeated the opinion is forgotten so becoming fact. Memories are short within media.

Beekeepers actively take their colonies to neo-nic’s oil seed rape for building up the colony and an early spring crop of honey and yet there is no detrimental effect to their honeybees
Too many assumptions are made by uneducated personnel who do not keep or understand honeybees.

My colonies are by and where pesticides are used and yet my honeybee colonies are NOT dying.

I am not condoning chemicals as I want chemicals taken out of the beehive, Oh! You didn’t know beekeepers use chemicals to treat the parasitic mite Varroa, so if beekeepers are blaming neo-nic`s, would that be hypocritical?

Neo-nic`s are the safest pesticide to use, it contains the pesticide within the plant and kills only the pest that attacks the plant. Now neo-nic`s are banned. Farming will use more fatal pesticides using aerial sprays that will kill more of the environment. Well done lobbyists!

There is one point overlooked, we have 7 billion people on Planet Earth, lobbyist appear to want to wipe out a billion or two. Let us work together rather than condemnation to others.

The parasitic varroa mite is a key reason for the honeybee demise but not the main one.My hypothesis gets rid of the varroa mite, naturally.
There is one other phenomenon, EMF, that kills or saves honeybees but allow the honeybee to control varroa mites.

There is an easy answer and I have that answer as you will read if you contact me. If my hypothesis was adopted by beekeepers worldwide no chemicals would be needed within the beehive.

The Chemical Industry could concentrate their efforts to creating safer ways to produce food for all.

It has taken over 20 years of my 33 years beekeeping career to find.

If you want to know please contact me direct.


John Harding