Thursday, January 18, 2007

Vote for poverty: buy organic!

I took part in a debate on BBC Radio Shropshire yesterday with Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, Britain's main organic food lobbyists and certification body. What was interesting was just how candid he was about what a dramatic change in our lives his organic future would mean. Are organic consumers really aware of what they're signing up to?

He began by asserting that `it's very likely the whole of agriculture will have to switch to organic production methods, certified or otherwise, within the next 10 or 20 years' because of a rapid decline in energy resources. This seemed to be based on the gloomy assessment that we're about to hit, or have passed, the peak of oil production (and ignoring other sources of energy). According to Holden, `by 2025 or 2030, most of us will have to manage on an energy ration that's about 10 per cent of what we use today'.

The problem is that organic production is just much less efficient than `conventional' methods. The result will be a sharp decline in grain production and rising food prices. Holden admitted that `the affordability of food is a big issue. But you should remember that in the 1970s, the typical family spent 30 per cent of its total income on food but today that's down to 9.9 per cent, and of course we spend the balance on DVDs and foreign holidays and travel and all the rest of it.' So, cheap food has only allowed us to go and waste money fecklessly on luxuries instead. He never did answer the question about how the genuinely poor would survive in his rural idyll.

Another consequence is that meat produced using grain as feed would be much more expensive, too. `Chicken and pork would become a luxury again as it was in my boyhood and back in the fifties,' he said. His vision of the future would be to `buy fresh and local food that's had the minimum of transport and preferably from someone I know'. This will indeed be an attractive proposition for the 10million Londoners, and indeed the residents of every other large town in the UK, who may not actually know any farmers.

Next time you're in a supermarket or down at your local farmer's market and you buy organic, just remember that your purchase will be used to promote the idea that we should move away from the cheap food that has allowed us greater freedom in other areas of our lives, to a system where we have to buy whatever gets grown locally. And given that fertilisers, pesticides and grain for animal feed won't be available, that won't amount to a hill of beans.


Cloned Bull

The bum rap on cloned food -- noting another strange contradiction in Leftist ideology: They say human stem cell research is OK but cloned animals are bad

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? People have puzzled over that question for at least 2,000 years. In the eternal cycle of natural reproduction, they saw no answer. But the cycle turns out not to be eternal. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration tentatively approved the use of cloned animals to make food. Natural reproduction is giving way to artificial reproduction. And with the new era comes a new question: Which came first, the steer or the steak?

Case in point: Elvis. He's a 19-month-old Angus calf. You can view him on the Web site of ViaGen, a cloning company. In a recent slide presentation from the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the caption below his photo reads, "Elvis was cloned from a side of Prime Yield Grade 1 beef." No joke: The calf came from the beef. And Elvis is no freak show. He's a business plan. "Some of your animals have more income potential than others," ViaGen reminds farmers. "Our services help you identify, preserve, and reproduce the genetics of those animals." If a steer is already dead, no problem. In fact, the best way to judge its steakworthiness is to cut it open and hang it on a hook. That's what happened to the original incarnation of Elvis. "Biopsy samples should be collected from your animal as soon as possible," ViaGen advises. If you like that side of beef and want another just like it, we can grow it for you. A steer from a steak from a steer. Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has re-entered the building.

The political fight over animal cloning is just beginning. It's a lot like the fight over human cloning, except that the roles are reversed. Right-wing groups and Republican senators fanned fear and ignorance about human cloning; left-wing groups and Democratic senators are fanning fear and ignorance about animal cloning. Moderates on both sides get trampled. So do principles. The same liberals who demand stem-cell research using human embryos and who blasted the FDA for delaying approval of emergency contraception now accuse the FDA of recklessly approving cloned food.

The left-wingers want the FDA, Congress, and President Bush to keep clones off the market. Their case, laid out in a petition to the FDA, is a mess of anecdotes, obsolete data, speculation, and ideology. Like right-wingers in the human cloning debate, they expect the government to honor even their "religious" objections. But their strongest argument is that cloned food is unsafe, since cloning, unlike fertilization, often fails to reprogram genes for normal embryonic development.

It's a sensible worry, but the facts don't bear it out. The FDA's review, based on exhaustive and fully disclosed analysis of scientific journal articles, health records, blood samples, and meat and milk composition, found no "food consumption risks or subtle hazards in healthy clones of cattle, swine, or goats." The agency concluded that "food from the sexually reproduced offspring of clones is as safe as food that we eat every day."

Why don't reprogramming errors taint your food? Because if they're serious, they kill the animal before it's old enough to be milked or eaten, or they cause defects that make the animal flunk federal food safety inspections. They don't carry over to a clone's offspring, since fertilization, like rebooting, cleans up programming errors. And the offspring are where the milk and meat will come from. ViaGen charges $15,000 to clone a steer. You don't butcher a $15,000 clone. You use it for breeding.

Critics say cloning often causes health problems for cloned animals and their surrogate mothers. That's true, but less so in some species, and the rate of complications is falling as the technology improves. Opponents of cloning also suggest we should ban it because it's unethical "to alter the essential nature of animals." Essential nature? We've been breeding animals for 15,000 years. We've been artificially inseminating them for nearly 700 years. Most apples, bananas, grapes, peaches, and potatoes are clones, and a lot of meat sold today was produced through in vitro fertilization, embryo transfer, or embryo splitting.

The silliest rap on cloning is that it offers "no consumer benefits." That's insane. Cloning means total genome control. It bypasses the uncertainties of breeding. It also improves breeding, since five clones of your best bull or cow produce five times as much sperm or eggs. Theoretically, you can target any trait for cloning: more muscle, less fat, more omega-3 acids. You can even help the environment by cloning animals that eat grass instead of grain.

Yes, we're scared of cloned food. But according to the same polls, most of us have heard little about animal biotechnology, don't know biotech food is already in supermarkets, and, against all reason, are more afraid of cloning animals than of genetically engineering them. Don't be cowed. Question your fears. That's the difference between us and the animals.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The use of extreme quintiles (fifths) to examine effects is in fact so common as to be almost universal but suggests to the experienced observer that the differences between the mean scores of the experimental and control groups were not statistically significant -- thus making the article concerned little more than an exercise in deception


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