Saturday, May 30, 2009

Musings: Hidden Costs

The sky was a quilt of puffy gray clouds that slowly turned silver, then yellow, then orange, then pink while Koko and I were out walking this morning. The air was still and muggy, and the soil and all its inhabitants were drenched from yesterday’s welcome rain.

With the sun rising so early —it’s at its peak of 5:49 a.m. now — there’s a broad window for walking, and I haven’t seen my neighbor Andy or farmer Jerry on the road for a while. But as we passed Andy’s house, Koko heard his voice inside and began to whine, frequently looking back as we continued on, apparently in hopes that he and Momi would appear on the street.

A Hawaiian national who was busted on Oahu for driving a car without state license plates had to make the inevitable appearance in court. As he noted in an email:

Go to the Courts for a day and sit down and listen and watch what is happening in Hawaii with it's Courts systems. Look at the people and notice who is there. It's not the Rich or Wealthy, it's the poor people who are there trying to survive the American Holocaust.

As I go before the State Courts, Hawaii is My Hitler Camp. As a Hawaiian National living in my country, my Freedom is being Denied.

All while under the American system, many people from all over the world are being brought to my country to perpetuate the American Empire that is HEWA.

Meanwhile, it was interesting to note that at least one KIUC official also made a court appearance because utility lines are killing Newell’s shearwaters. In an article on Dennis Esaki’s resignation from the KIUC board of directors, he commented:

“As chairman, I have been subpoenaed to testify in the grand jury for alleged downing of shearwater birds due to our power lines and lights. This is one of the unintended and unwanted consequences of the chairman.

No, it’s one of the unwanted consequences of refusing to underground power lines that stretch across known Newell’s flyways. Could it be the feds are FINALLY going to take legal action against KIUC for its ongoing disregard of the Endangered Species Act?

It was also interesting to note that the same day The Garden Island ran a story highlighting a local farm that uses sustainable practices, the New York Times ran a piece about the tough times that organic dairy farms are facing.

It seems budget conscious consumers are forgoing purchases of organic foods, causing that once rapidly growing sector of the food industry to stutter. And the dairy farmers that were supplying it are up manure creek:

“We’re in big trouble,” said Craig Russell, an organic dairy farmer in Brookfield, Vt., who owes $500,000, mostly from converting his farm to organic in 2006.

Mr. Russell quit a day job as an accountant to farm full time last year. “I made more money in six months than in five years of conventional farming,” he said, but his farm is now barely hanging on. The price he receives from the distributor dropped another $1 per hundredweight on May 1, just when he most needed money to prepare for the summer grazing season.

“It’s going to cost me more to make milk than sell milk,” he said.

I’m a big fan of organic agriculture, because I believe it’s better for people and the planet. But the small organic farms I know of on Kauai are barely hanging on, and many would be sunk without the seasonal surfers and idealistic souls who are willing to trade labor for tent space or very marginal accommodations.

So if the small organic farms are struggling and the small conventional farms are struggling, that leaves the big factory farms. They’ve mastered the art of churning out cheap food — even though it means treating animals and the land badly and compromising human health.

It’s not unlike our approach to energy. We want it cheap and plentiful, with the true costs conveniently kept out of sight and mind.

Some, however, are intent on revealing some of these hidden costs. In the strongest scientific indictment yet of genetically modified foods, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has called for a moratorium, product labeling and the immediate implementation of long term safety testing, including independent long term scientific studies to begin gathering data to investigate the role of GM foods on human health. The organization is also urging physicians to educate their patients, the medical community and the public to avoid GM foods, and to consider the role of GM foods in their patients' disease processes.

According to the organization’s position paper (the footnotes were removed from this excerpt):

Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation, including upregulation of cytokines associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation. Animal studies also show altered structure and function of the liver, including altered lipid and carbohydrate metabolism as well as cellular changes that could lead to accelerated aging and possibly lead to the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Changes in the kidney, pancreas and spleen have also been documented. A recent 2008 study links GM corn with infertility, showing a significant decrease in offspring over time and significantly lower litter weight in mice fed GM corn. This study also found that over 400 genes were found to be expressed differently in the mice fed GM corn. These are genes known to control protein synthesis and modification, cell signaling, cholesterol synthesis, and insulin regulation. Studies also show intestinal damage in animals fed GM foods, including proliferative cell growth and disruption of the intestinal immune system.

Also, because of the mounting data, it is biologically plausible for Genetically Modified Foods to cause adverse health effects in humans.

Americans spent $2.4 trillion on healthcare in 2007, which represented 17 percent of the gross domestic product. Many of these costs can be directly traced to eating a crappy diet in which GM foods figure prominently, including corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. So are we going to let the biotech industry off the hook with its unsubstantiated claims of safety? If the real — and currently hidden — cost of these foods was factored in, organic and locally produced foods would suddenly be a lot more competitive in the market — just as alternative energy would be a lot more competitive if the price of a barrel of oil included the full costs to environmental and human health.


darwin_was_pretty_smart said...

the saying ~ "law is like a spider web - catches the weak but the powerful break free" makes one feel clever when they say it, and there is some truth to it

it is also true that court systems around the world are full of idiots that do things like drive without insurance or a license, public intox etc

anyways, hope you did notice the American Academy of Environmental Medicine thing was not a scientific study, but rather a position paper (just sayin). but you know darn well if there could be shown, as defined by law, a scientific causal connection between ingesting available GM crops and some sort of inappropriate harm...the anti GM people and PI attorneys would have been all over that (which is nothing special, this is true of all sorts of perceived harms)

as to:

"just as alternative energy would be a lot more competitive if the price of a barrel of oil included the full costs to environmental and human health."

...lets do a fun little exercise in reality: the chinese can burn coal at a cost of about $0.05-.06 and get one (1) kW of electric energy. the goal is to get them to stop burning carbons. how do you do this? via offering them some alt energy production at $0.20 or $0.40 per kW? condoms? long term verbal intellectual persuasion? subsidize it? point is - economics and reality matter; pls factor it in (as to energy, food, law, etc)

Anonymous said...

"lets do a fun little exercise in reality: the chinese can burn coal at a cost of about $0.05-.06 and get one (1) kW of electric energy."

Reality = the price of coal + the cost of people getting sick from air pollution, acid rain, mercury poisoning, blowing the tops off mountains, killing streams etc etc.

Anonymous said...

Will the intentional greed driven creation and spreading of Sick Herd Syndrome through GMOs solve the underlying overpopulation problem leaving only those rich, smart (or both) people to enjoy an organic paradise?

Anonymous said...

The reason I said "rich or smart" is because only those people will be able to afford or find other ways to obtain non-GMO foods thus avoiding the externalities of greed slowly killing everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Are we talking colony collapse disorder or what?

darwin_was_pretty_smart said...

"Reality = the price of coal + the cost of people getting sick from air pollution, acid rain, mercury poisoning, blowing the tops off mountains, killing streams etc etc."

-- buddy i hear ya; im not some pro-coal person. but it is cheap ($) energy, and i just offered (poor) china as an relevant example of the pure economic dynamics of energy, which govern much and need to be seriously considered

complaining is easy. solving problems is harder, and you wont solve them w/o factoring in realpolitic economics (which kauai seems to have a problem doing <-- pls correct if wrong with examples)

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