By Dr. Mercola
Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are so ubiquitous that many of them are now detected in humans—including children. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a dozen different types of perfluorinated compounds were detected in Americans tested.1
The two most talked about PFCs include PFOA, which was widely used to make non-stick cookware, and PFOS, which was a key ingredient in stain-resistant fabrics. These chemicals have been linked to so many health problems – cancer, miscarriages, thyroid problems, and more – that they’ve been phased out in the US and essentially banned in Europe.
The problem is that PFCs, which are scientifically known as poly and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), are a family of chemicals, and PFOA and PFOS make up only two of them.
The products being used in their place are structurally similar and likely pose many of the same health and environmental risks. Some of the newer PFCs have even caught the attention of international scientists, who released a statement calling for caution. According to the report:2
“…the most common [PFOA and PFOS] replacements are short-chain PFASs with similar structures, or compounds with fluorinated segments joined by ether linkages.
While some shorter-chain fluorinated alternatives seem to be less bioaccumulative, they are still as environmentally persistent as long-chain substances or have persistent degradation products.
Thus, a switch to short-chain and other fluorinated alternatives may not reduce the amounts of PFASs in the environment. In addition, because some of the shorter-chain PFASs are less effective, larger quantities may be needed to provide the same performance.”
What Are the Health Risks of PFCs?
In 2006, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined PFOA is a likely human carcinogen.3 The chemicals are also known as endocrine disrupters; birth defects, reproductive problems, and other serious health problems have also been linked to their use.
For instance, research from the University of Southern Denmark found women with higher levels of PFASs (specifically PFNA and PFDA) had a 16 times greater risk of miscarriage than women with the lowest levels.4
The statement released by 14 scientists sounded further alarm and urged consumers to avoid the chemicals as much as possible. “PFASs are man-made and found everywhere,” the report noted, adding “PFASs are highly persistent, as they contain perfluorinated chains that only degrade very slowly, if at all, under environmental conditions.”5
The chemicals migrate out of consumer products into air, household dust, food, soil, and ground water, and they make their way into drinking water. The report continues:6
“In animal studies, some long-chain PFASs have been found to cause liver toxicity, disruption of lipid metabolism and the immune and endocrine systems, adverse neurobehavioral effects, neonatal toxicity and death, and tumors in multiple organ systems.
In the growing body of epidemiological evidence, some of these effects are supported by significant or suggestive associations between specific long-chain PFASs and adverse outcomes, including associations with testicular and kidney cancers, liver malfunction, hypothyroidism, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, lower birth weight and size, obesity, decreased immune response… and reduced hormone levels and delayed puberty.
Due to their high persistence, global distribution, bioaccumulation potential, and toxicity, some PFASs have been listed under the Stockholm Convention as persistent organic pollutants (POPs).”
In addition, EWG’s report on these global contaminants is based on a review of 50,000 pages of regulatory studies and government documents, internal documents from PFC manufacturers, and an examination of independent studies on PFCs. Among the health concerns noted in the report are:
Cancer Hypothyroidism Reproductive problems Birth defects Immune system problems Organ damage
9 Common Products Where PFCs Are Found…
- Takeout containers such as pizza boxes and sandwich wrappers
- Non-stick pots, pans, and utensils
- Popcorn bags
- Outdoor clothing
- Camping tents
- Stain-repellant or water-repellant clothing
- Stain treatments for clothing and furniture
- Carpeting and carpet treatments
- Certain cosmetics, particularly eye shadow, foundation, facial powder, bronzer, and blush
It’s important to understand that while PFOA is no longer being used in the US, similar replacement chemicals have been added in its place. As recently as 2013, Greenpeace International tested 15 samples of waterproof clothing, shoes, and swimsuits and found PFCs in all but one, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).9
Some food wrappers, beverage containers, pizza boxes, and other food packaging may also be PFOA-free, but not necessarily safe, as the PFOA replacement chemicals have not been adequately tested for safety. According to EWG:10
“Production, use, and importation of PFOA has ended in the United States, but in its place DuPont and other companies are using similar compounds that may not be much – if at all – safer. These next-generation PFCs are used in greaseproof food wrappers, waterproof clothing, and other products.
Few have been tested for safety, and the names, composition, and health effects of most are hidden as trade secrets. With the new PFCs’ potential for harm, continued global production, the chemicals’ persistence in the environment and presence in drinking water in at least 29 states, we’re a long way from the day when PFCs will be no cause for concern.”
Chemicals Abound at Your Nail Salon
Chemicals are all around us, and if you frequent a nail salon, or work at one, you’ll be exposed to a unique set of chemicals that could harm your health. As reported by Scientific American:11
“Chemicals inside of the glues, removers, polishes, and salon products—which technicians are often exposed to at close proximity and in poorly ventilated spaces—can be hazardous individually. When combined, however, they could potentially cause even greater harm. Yet, it is difficult to know how these chemicals affect the body because current evaluations do not look at these substances comprehensively. There are also few reports looking at how each compound individually affects nail workers.”
Nail technicians often report health problems including respiratory, skin and musculoskeletal issues, along with headaches. According to a study published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health:12
“Musculoskeletal disorders, skin problems, respiratory irritation, and headaches were commonly reported as work related, as were poor air quality, dusts, and offensive odors. The reporting of a work-related respiratory symptom was significantly associated with the reporting of exposure factors such as poorer air quality. Absence of skin disorders was associated with glove use and musculoskeletal symptoms were associated with years worked as a nail technician. Work-related health effects may be common in nail salon work.”
4 Dangerous Chemicals at Your Nail Salon
The chemicals are not only a concern for workers in nail salons, who are exposed to these chemicals on a daily basis, but also to the women using nail polish products or frequenting salons. Four of the most concerning nail-salon chemicals to watch out for include:
1. Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)
In 2000, EWG released a study showing 37 nail polishes from 22 companies contained dibutyl phthalate (DBP). DBP is known to cause lifelong reproductive impairments in male rats, and has been shown to damage the testes, prostate gland, epididymus, penis, and seminal vesicles in animals.
It’s used in nail polish because it increases flexibility and shine, but research by the CDC revealed that all 289 people tested had DBP in their bodies.13 Worse still, this chemical, which is linked to birth defects in animals, was found at the highest levels in women of childbearing age. EWG’s findings were the impetus for a coalition of environmental and public health organizations, including EWG, to begin a push for companies to get these toxic chemicals out of their products…
Toluene is made from petroleum or coal tar. Chronic exposure is linked to anemia, lowered blood cell count, liver or kidney damage, and may affect a developing fetus. In nail polish, toluene is used to give the polish a smooth finish.
Formaldehyde is a skin, eye, and respiratory irritant, and a known carcinogen (formaldehyde exposure has been associated with leukemia specifically). Formaldehyde is used in nail polish as a hardener and preservative.
4. Methacrylate Compounds
Ethyl methacrylate (EMA) is used to make artificial nails. It’s linked to allergies, asthma, and dermatitis, and should only be applied at a ventilated worktable (if at all).
Some might argue that occasional application of nail polish is only going to expose you to trace amounts of chemicals in levels too low to raise concern, but nail polish is just one beauty product that many women use on a regular basis. When you add up the toxic exposures from nail polish, however “small” they may (or may not) be, with those from fragrances, makeup, body lotions, and more (like the PFCs in your food wrappers), it can no longer be brushed off as insignificant.
Many chemicals, including endocrine disrupters, have shown adverse effects at even very low doses, and even more concerning are the effects of such chemicals on the most vulnerable populations, like pregnant women and young children (who may also have their nails painted on occasion).
Tips for Lowering Your Risk of Chemical Exposures
You'll want to begin with what are likely your largest avenues of chemical exposures: your diet and your home, starting by paying careful attention to what you eat. Eating organically grown, biodynamic whole foods is a primary strategy and, as an added bonus, when you eat properly, you're also optimizing your body's natural detoxification system, which can help eliminate toxins your body encounters from other sources. When your diet is mostly fresh foods, you’ll also avoid exposure to PFCs common in take-out containers. From there, simply leading a healthy lifestyle will help you to have as minimal a chemical exposure as possible. This includes the following:
- As much as possible, purchase organic produce and free-range foods to reduce your exposure to pesticides, growth hormones, GMOs, and synthetic fertilizers.
- Rather than using conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity.
- Eat mostly raw, fresh foods, steering clear of processed, pre-packaged foods of all kinds. This way you automatically avoid artificial food additives, including dangerous artificial sweeteners, food coloring, and MSG. Freshly grown sprouts are particularly nutritious, especially watercress, sunflower, and pea sprouts.
- Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap and canned foods (which are often lined with BPA- and BPS-containing liners).
- Have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath).
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home.
- Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants, and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group has a useful database to help you find personal care products that are free of PFCs, phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemical.14 I also offer one of the highest quality organic skin care lines, shampoo, and conditioner, and body butter that are completely natural and safe.
- Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, or other synthetic fragrances.
- Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
- When redoing your home, look for "green," chemical-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric, or install a glass shower door. Most flexible plastics, like shower curtains, contain dangerous plasticizers like phthalates.
- Limit your use of drugs (prescription and over-the-counter) as much as possible. Drugs are chemicals too, and they will leave residues and accumulate in your body over time.
- Avoid spraying pesticides around your home or insect repellants that contain DEET on your body. There are safe, effective, and natural alternatives out there.
Fluoride and Other Chemicals in Your Drinking Water Could Be Wrecking Your Health
Are You Poisoning Your Household With this Chore?
By Dr. Mercola
Antibiotic overuse doesn't just make us vulnerable to minor infections that can become life-threatening when the bacteria have developed resistance against one or more antibiotics, antibiotic use in childhood also appears to be linked to a host of problems well into adulthood.
This is more proof antibiotics needs to be reserved for life-threatening situations, and prescriptions for minor infections and use in animal husbandry must end immediately to curb this growing health threat.
Antibiotic Use in Agriculture Must Be Stopped
Meat raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is one known source of drug-resistant disease.
A recent mortality and morbidity report1 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals how little of an impact they've had in their efforts to curb these pathogenic bacteria, with prevalence of some types of drug-resistant bacteria falling while others are taking over in their stead.
In 2014 alone, more than 19,540 Americans contracted confirmed foodborne infections, and 71 of them died as a result.
Moreover, experts are warning we may soon be at a point where virtually ALL antibiotics fail, and once that happens, it will be devastating to modern medicine. So what can you do to minimize your risk? Three recommendations that can help reduce your risk for antibiotic-resistant disease include the following:
- Avoid using antibiotics unless your infection is severe enough to warrant it
- Stay out of hospitals as much as possible (treatment using medical scopes is particularly risky3), and
- Avoid CAFO animal products and remember that nearly all meat served in restaurants or on planes is CAFO
Antibiotics Can Seriously Compromise Your Child's Long-Term Health
Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to children for a variety of ailments. According to Science Daily,4 they account for about one-fourth of all medications prescribed to children.
Surprisingly, researchers have found that patients want antibiotics even when they know they have a viral infection, against which antibiotics have no effect. As reported by NDTV Food:5
"These patients might know that there is, in theory, a risk of side effects when taking antibiotics, but they interpret that risk as essentially nil. More than half of the patients we surveyed already knew that antibiotics don't work against viruses, but they still agreed with taking antibiotics just in case," Broniatowski added.
Taking antibiotics "just in case" is highly inadvisable, and you'd be wise to rid yourself of this misconception.
Many studies have shown antibiotics have both short- and long-term effects on the composition and health of the microbes in your gut, and your microbiome plays a crucial role in your overall immune function and general health.
Recent research6, 7 also suggests children treated with antibiotics raise their risk of developing health problems in adulthood, including making them more susceptible to infectious diseases, allergies, obesity, and autoimmune disorders as they grow older.
According to senior author Dan Knights, assistant professor at University of Minnesota:8
"Over the past year we synthesized hundreds of studies and found evidence of strong correlations between antibiotic use, changes in gut bacteria, and disease in adulthood...
We think these findings help develop a roadmap for future research to determine the health consequences of antibiotic use and for recommendations for prescribing them."
Antibiotic-Resistant Typhoid Spreading
A number of diseases are already becoming exceedingly difficult to treat. Gonorrhea, for example, now poses a growing health threat, having become resistant to one antibiotic after another.
Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea first emerged when I was in medical school in the late 1970s. By the 1980s, the antibiotics penicillin and tetracycline were no longer effective against it.
Next, gonorrhea resistant to fluoroquinolone antibiotics emerged, leaving only one class of antibiotic drugs, cephalosporins, left to treat it. Now, as you might suspect, gonorrhea is fast becoming resistant to cephalosporins – the last available antibiotics to treat it.
Antibiotic-resistant typhoid is also spreading, according to a recent study. As reported by WebMD:9
"The strain, H58, emerged in South Asia between 25 and 30 years ago and has slowly grown to become one of the predominant forms of the bacteria Salmonella Typhi, said study author Vanessa Wong, a microbiologist at the University of Cambridge in England.
'This multidrug-resistant strain, H58, is resistant to a number of first line antibiotics used to treat the disease and is continuing to evolve and acquire new mutations to newer drugs,' Wong said."
The researchers recommend getting vaccinated against typhoid before traveling to areas where typhoid is endemic, but it's worth noting that the vaccine is only 50-80 percent effective against all typhoid strains, so that's still not a guarantee you won't get sick.
On a side note, we also do not know whether vaccines may produce similar effects as antibiotic overuse, meaning it may become counterproductive and actually lead to more health problems either in the short- or long-term.
In a recent interview, Dr. Lucija Tomljenovic explains that when you over-stimulate your immune system with vaccines, you run the very serious risk of breaking self-tolerance, and repeated stimulation with the same antigen (which is what you're doing when you get booster shots) overcomes your genetic resistance to autoimmunity.
Fighting 'Superbugs' Will Be a Costly Venture
It's been estimated10 that the pharmaceutical industry will need upwards of $37 billion over the next decade to replace antibiotics that no longer work. Alas, since drug companies have little financial incentive to innovate new antibiotics, tax payers around the world will probably end up having to foot the bill.11
Doing nothing, on the other hand, could lead to a loss of global economic output ranging from $60 trillion to $100 trillion over the next 35 years—if antibiotic-resistant disease indeed ends up killing 10 million people a year by 2050. As reported by the Wall Street Journal:12
"[Economist Jim] O'Neill said extra investment was needed at every stage of the antibiotic development process to 'radically overhaul' the antibiotics pipeline over the next 20 years. He proposed giving companies that already have the 'highest priority antibiotics' in their pipelines a 'lump-sum' payment. This would 'delink' profitability from sales volumes, lowering the risk of developing a novel antibiotic as well as reducing the incentive to oversell the drug once it is on the market.
Mr. O'Neill highlighted antibiotics that were active against bacteria where the existing drugs are already the 'last line' of defense as those that could receive priority funding. He also called for a 'global AMR innovation fund' of around $2 billion over five years to kick-start basic research into new antibiotics.
While Mr. O'Neill didn't specifically call on pharmaceutical companies to foot the bill for the innovation fund, he did urge the industry to act with 'enlightened self-interest' in tackling AMR, 'recognizing that it has a long-term commercial imperative to having effective antibiotics, as well as a moral one.'"
One Chicken CAFO Takes Indefensible Stance to Continue Using Antibiotics
There's overwhelming evidence showing that antibiotic use in livestock is driving the rise in antibiotic resistance, and some companies are taking steps to curb antibiotic use in their animals. For example, Tyson Foods, Perdue, and Pilgrim's Pride have all announced their intentions to cut down on antibiotics in their chickens over the next few years.
A number of grocery and restaurant chains have also vowed to stop buying and selling chicken raised with antibiotics. Examples include Whole Foods Market, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Panera Bread, and even McDonald's. Six of the largest school districts in the US (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami-Dade County, and Orlando County) have also decided to switch to antibiotic-free chicken in their cafeterias. In contrast, Sanderson Farms has taken the converse stand, vowing to continue using antibiotics in their chickens.
Remarkably, Sanderson Farms' CEO Joe Sanderson Jr. has even gone on record saying antibiotics don't cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria. What planet is he living in? It's really unbelievable they would consider endangering their customers and employees in this way. Recent research13 found that hog farmers are six times more likely to carry multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus than farm workers who do not have any direct contact with the animals.
It's possible other animals raised on antibiotics would confer similar risks to farm workers. Not to mention the risks consumers take when eating meats contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria. As reported by Food Business News,14 Sanderson says that: "after doing our homework, we do not plan to withdraw antibiotics from our program, and there are three main reasons."
- Animal welfare. "We feel like we need to take care of the animals in our care," [Sanderson] said. "There's one thing that you cannot take care of if you don't use antibiotics and that is enteritis in the chicken... Particularly when there's no evidence whatsoever that using these antibiotics really does cause antibiotic resistant bacteria."
- Sustainability and environmental responsibility. "It's going to take more chicken houses, more electricity, more water, more acres of corn, and more acres of soybeans... So you're going to have to grow these chickens longer and use all that to achieve the same market weight."
- Food safety. "We have all been busting our behinds to reduce the microbiology loads, the microorganism loads, on these chickens coming to the plants. And everybody knows what happened in Europe when they took antibiotics away. All those loads went up on the chicken. So you're talking food safety. You take antibiotics out, and you're going to have more campylobacter, more salmonella..."
I have no way of knowing where Sanderson got his "facts" from, but there can be little doubt that antibiotic use in agriculture is a driving force for antibiotic resistance. For a demonstration of how bacteria develop resistance, please see the featured BBC News segment above. As explained by Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, associate director of the CDC:15
"The more you use an antibiotic, the more you expose a bacteria to an antibiotic, the greater the likelihood that resistance to that antibiotic is going to develop. So the more antibiotics we put into people, we put into the environment, we put into livestock, the more opportunities we create for these bacteria to become resistant."
What's Being Done to Address This Growing Health Threat?
Despite antibiotic-resistant disease killing tens of thousands of Americans each year, politicians and health officials have been slow to respond to this growing health threat. According to Reuters,16 the US government is planning to begin collecting data on antibiotic use on farms as of next year, to set targets for reduced use in livestock. The problem is it's going to take time to collect and analyze such data, and it's time we don't necessarily have.
The problem is growing exponentially, and an estimated 23,000 Americans are dying with each passing year. Agricultural use of antibiotics needs to be curbed as much as possible, as quickly as possible, period. And other countries have already shown that it's quite possible to run a profitable livestock business without routine use of antibiotics.
My suggestion to you is: don't wait for CAFOs to voluntarily do the right thing. Don't wait for the government to implement an action agenda. Instead, take decisive action for yourself and your own family. Seek out trusted sources of food that do not use antibiotic pesticides and/or antibiotic growth promoters. Many small farmers use organic principles even if they have not been able to afford organic certification, so your local farmer is a good place to start.
Some grocery chains also offer 100% grass-fed and finished meats these days. If not, ask them to start carrying it. I've also made connections with sources I know provide high-quality organic grass-fed and grass finished beef and free-range chicken, both of which you can find in my online store. I believe the strongest message you can send is to change how you spend your food dollars. By opting for antibiotic-free, pasture raised and finished meats, you're actively supporting farmers who are not contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistance.
Non-Drug Immune Boosters
Also be mindful of how you use antibiotics, both for yourself and your children. Remember, viral infections are not affected by antibiotics, so you're simply killing off all your beneficial gut bacteria for no reason at all, which could actually make it more difficult for you to recover from your illness. Antibiotics really should be reserved for serious bacterial infections that do not respond to other treatments, and if you do take a course of antibiotics, be sure to reseed your gut with healthy bacteria, either by eating fermented foods or taking a high-quality probiotic.
There are many non-drug alternatives you can try, should you come down with an infection. There are also effective preventive strategies beyond a healthy diet.
For example, studies have shown that inadequate vitamin D can increase your risk for MRSA and other infections, which can likely be extended to other superbugs. So monitor your vitamin D levels to confirm they're in the therapeutic range, 50-70 ng/ml. If you can't get sufficient sun exposure, consider taking an oral vitamin D supplement. Other agents that have natural antibacterial action include (but is not limited to) the following:
- Vitamin C. Vitamin C's role in preventing and treating infectious disease is well-established. Intravenous vitamin C is an option, but if you don't have access to a practitioner who can administer it, liposomal vitamin C is the most potent oral form. For more information on vitamin C, listen to my interview with Dr. Ronald Hunninghake, an internationally recognized vitamin C expert.
- Garlic. Garlic is a powerful antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal. It can stimulate your immune system, help wounds heal, and kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria (including MRSA and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis), plus it has shown more than 100 other health-promoting properties. For highest potency, the garlic should be eaten fresh and raw (chopped or smashed.)
- Colloidal Silver. Colloidal silver has been regarded as an effective natural antibiotic for centuries, and research17,18,19 show it can even be helpful against some antibiotic-resistant pathogens. If you are interested in this treatment, make sure you review the guidelines for safe usage, as there are risks with using colloidal silver improperly.
- Olive leaf extract. In vitro studies show olive leaf extract is effective against Klebsiella, a gram-negative bacteria, inhibiting its replication, in addition to being toxic to other pathogenic microbes.
- Manuka honey. Manuka honey, made from the flowers and pollen of the Manuka bush, has been shown to be more effective than antibiotics in the treatment of serious, hard-to-heal skin infections when used topically. Clinical trials have found Manuka honey can effectively eradicate more than 250 clinical strains of bacteria, including resistant varieties such as MRSA.
- Tea tree oil. Tea tree oil, which is used topically, is a natural antiseptic proven to kill many bacterial strains (including MRSA).
Bitter Pill: The Dangerous Side Effects of Fluoridated Antibiotics
Antibiotic-Resistant Genes in Cow Manure May Add to the Threat of Untreatable Disease
By Dr. Mercola
A professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, Tim Spector, wanted to find out what happens to your gut if you eat only fast food, specifically McDonald’s, for 10 solid days.
His son, Tom, became the willing guinea pig and reported his symptoms, as well as sent stool samples to different labs, throughout the 10-day trial. If you watched Morgan Spurlock's documentary “Super-Size Me,” you probably have an idea of how the experiment panned out…
“Tom said that for three days he felt ok, but then started to become more lethargic and turned a slight gray color according to his friends. He reported feeling bad the last few days and says he also experienced some withdrawal symptoms,” TIME reported.1
The most revealing results came from the stool samples, however, which revealed what the fast food had done to Tom’s gut…
Gut Microbes ‘Devastated’ After 10 Days of Fast Food
Nearly 100 trillion bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microorganisms compose your body's microflora, and advancing science has made it quite clear that these organisms play a major role in your health, both mental and physical.
When you eat too many grains, sugars, and processed foods, these foods serve as “fertilizer” for pathogenic microorganisms and yeast, causing them to rapidly multiply. Meanwhile, microbial diversity is also important.
In one study, the hunter-gatherer Yanomami tribe—which had never come in contact with outsiders prior to the researchers’ arrival, and have never been exposed to antibiotics—had about 50 percent greater microbial diversity than American subjects.
They also had 30 percent to 40 percent more diversity than the Guahibo and the Malawian tribes, the latter two of which have adopted some Western lifestyle components, such as living indoors and using antibiotics.2 According to one of the authors:3
“As cultures around the world become more ‘Western,’ they lose bacteria species in their guts… At the same time, they start having higher incidences of chronic illnesses connected to the immune system, such as allergies, Crohn’s disease, autoimmune disorders, and multiple sclerosis.”
Echoing these sentiments were the results from Tom’s stool samples during and after 10 days of a fast food diet. The results, from Cornell University and the British Gut Project, found his gut microbes were “devastated.”
Food Industry Does Little to Improve Health as Part of UK’s ‘Responsibility Deal’
In 2012, the UK’s Department of Health created The Public Health Responsibility Deal (RD), a public–private partnership involving voluntary pledges between government and the food industry in an effort to improve public health.
Some of the interventions agreed upon included improved nutrition labeling, salt and calorie reduction, and increased fruit and vegetable consumption.
There were problems from the start, as the Department of Health charged the food industry itself, including companies such as McDonald's, KFC, PepsiCo, Kellogg's, Unilever, Mars, and Diageo, with writing the policies.
Health secretary at the time, Andrew Lansley, set up five "responsibility deal" networks with businesses and according to The Guardian:5
"The groups are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, who have been invited to suggest measures to tackle public health crises... In early meetings, these commercial partners have been invited to draft priorities and identify barriers, such as EU legislation, that they would like removed."
Industry members were allowed to decide which interventions they would follow through on, and there were no penalties for not completing the interventions or for not committing to any at all.
New Study: Responsibility Deal Failed…
Now, new research has assessed whether the Responsibility Deal is working as planned… and revealed it has failed quite miserably. Not only has it not improved eating habits among Britons, but most of the food pledges do not reflect the most effective strategies to improve diet, such as restrictions on marketing and reducing sugar intake.6 Further, the study revealed:
“Most RD partners appear to have committed to interventions that probably were already underway.”
And as The Guardian reported:7
“Most of the pledges concerned providing information, raising awareness, and communicating with consumers, steps that evidence shows ‘may have limited effect…’ a focus on sugar intake is absent from the promises.
Even though it is increasingly recognized as a major contributor to rising obesity levels and despite ‘good evidence that an explicit focus by industry members on reducing sugars in processed and pre-packaged foods could have a positive impact on public health.’
In addition, ‘though RD partners claim that considerable sugar reduction has occurred under their calorie reduction pledge, the current [companies’ own] progress reports do not substantiate these claims.”
Simon Capewell, professor of Clinical Epidemiology at Liverpool University, further pointed out that asking the food industry to voluntarily make their products healthier was unlikely to happen:8
“The very idea that industries whose profits rely on unhealthy products would voluntarily do anything to cut sales is like expecting turkeys to vote for Christmas. We and our families will pay the price in terms of disability and death for the coalition government pursuing the responsibility deal and shunning more effective policies.”
Is the Food Industry Marketing Less Junk Food to Kids on TV?
In the US, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) created the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, which is “a voluntary self-regulation program comprising many of the nation's largest food and beverage companies.”9
Members of this Initiative pledge to only feature food options that meet certain criteria in ads directed at kids, while at the same time not emphasizing toys and promotional characters that will obviously heavily influence a child’s perception of the food.
Historically, research has shown that the food industry’s supposed self-regulation is nonsense, so is this voluntary initiative working? Many of the companies have met their targets; for instance, Kellogg pledged to feature foods with no more than 200 calories and 12 grams of added sugar per serving to kids.10
However, when researchers assessed the efficacy of industry self-regulation by comparing advertising content on children’s TV programs before and after self-regulation was implemented, they found the changes have done little improve the overall nutritional quality of foods marketed to children.
They may have met their targets, but the foods being advertised are still far from healthy. According to the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine:11
“Findings indicated that no significant improvement in the overall nutritional quality of foods marketed to children has been achieved since industry self-regulation was adopted. In 2013, 80.5% of all foods advertised to children on TV were for products in the poorest nutritional category, and thus pose high risk for contributing to obesity.
The lack of significant improvement in the nutritional quality of food marketed to children is likely a result of the weak nutritional standards for defining healthy foods employed by industry, and because a substantial proportion of child-oriented food marketers do not participate in self-regulation.”
9-Year-Old Petitions Crayola to Stop Marketing Artificially Colored Candies
Even Crayola, most well-known for its crayons and markers, has jumped on the junk food bandwagon. Among their products are artificially colored (and flavored) candies designed to color your tongue while you eat them. They’re actually called “Color Your Mouth” candies… and are packaged to resemble the brand’s crayons and markers.
In 2007, a carefully designed, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the journal The Lancet concluded that a variety of common food dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate cause some children to become measurably more hyperactive and distractible.12 This wasn’t the first time such a link had been established. In 1994, researchers found that 73 percent of children with ADHD responded favorably to an elimination diet that included removing artificial colors.13
But in the case of the Lancet study, it prompted the British Food Standards Agency (FSA) to issue an immediate advisory to parents, warning them to limit their children's intake of additives if they notice an effect on behavior. They also advised the food industry to voluntarily remove the six food dyes named in the study and replace them with natural alternatives if possible.
In the US, however, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to allow these toxic ingredients in countless popular foods, including those marketed directly to children.
Nine-year-old Alessandra, who herself has experienced behavioral problems after eating artificial dyes and is highly sensitive to many artificial foods, is now petitioning Crayola to stop the use of unnecessary and unhealthy dyes, especially in a product marketed directly to kids.14 If you’d like to get involved, you can sign the petition to Crayola President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Perry, calling for the company to “stop telling kids to color their mouth with fake dyed candies.”
Food Industry Tries to Salvage Remaining Trans Fats in Foods…
In 2013, the FDA announced it would consider removing partially hydrogenated oils—the primary source of heart-destroying trans fats—from the list of "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) ingredients. If finalized, the FDA's decision means that food manufacturers can no longer use partially hydrogenated oils, i.e. trans fats, in their products without jumping through hoops to get special approval.
An estimated 5,000 Americans die from heart disease caused by synthetic trans fats each year, and another 15,000 will get heart disease as a result of eating too many trans fats.
Other CDC statistics suggest that as many as 20,000 heart attacks could be avoided each year by eliminating trans fats from the food supply.15 As the health risks became widely known, food companies began quietly removing the ingredient from their foods, and trans fat intake has steadily decreased over the past several years.
According to FDA estimates, Americans consumed an average of one gram of trans fat per day in 2012, compared to 4.6 grams per day in 2003. However, according to the Institute of Medicine, trans fat is unsafe at any level.
The FDA’s final trans fat ruling is set to be released, and it’s expected the ruling will essentially force food companies to remove all synthetic trans fats from their products. Unfortunately, the food industry is fighting back, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is leading an effort to draft a petition in favor of trans fats.16 The GMA apparently believes low levels of trans fats are safe and wants to continue to use partially hydrogenated oils in your food. If the petition is accepted, the FDA’s ruling may allow for “very limited amounts” of trans fats to remain in food – even though it’s been widely proven that no amount of synthetic trans fats should be consumed.
Ditch the Processed Foods and Get Healthy: ‘We’re Not Buying It’
If you want to eat (and be) healthy, I suggest you follow the pre-1950s model and spend quality time in the kitchen preparing high-quality meals for yourself and your family. If you rely on processed inexpensive foods, you exchange convenience for long-term health problems and mounting medical bills.
For a step-by-step guide to make this a reality in your own life, simply follow the advice in my optimized nutrition plan along with these seven steps to wean yourself off processed foods. Unfortunately, marketing is everywhere, and you cannot insulate your child from all of it all of the time.
However, in terms of mental and physical health, junk food ads are among the most harmful, and here you can lend your support for change. Talk to your kids about what they're seeing, and why fast food and processed foods simply aren't good for them—despite what the ad says.
Remember, ads are designed to sell products; not to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth... The Prevention Institute's "We're Not Buying It" campaign17 has petitioned President Obama to put voluntary, science-based nutrition guidelines into place for companies that market foods to kids. I urge you to go a step further and also stop supporting the companies that are marketing junk foods to your children today.
FDA Sued, Forced to Remove Safety Status on Trans Fats
The Unexpected Implications of Industry Involvement in Trans Fat Research
By Dr. Mercola
Monsanto recently made a bid to take over European agrichemical giant Syngenta, the world’s largest pesticide producer. The $45 billion bid was rejected, but there’s still a chance for a merger between these two chemical technology giants.
Monsanto is reportedly considering raising the offer, and as noted by Mother Jones,1 “combined, the two companies would form a singular agribusiness behemoth, a company that controls a third of both the globe's seed and pesticides markets.”
As reported by Bloomberg,2 the possibility of Monsanto taking over Syngenta raises a number of concerns; a top one being loss of crop diversity.
“...[A] larger company would eventually mean fewer varieties of seeds available to farmers, say opponents such as [science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, Bill] Freese.
Another is that the combined company could spur increased use of herbicides by combining Syngenta’s stable of weed killers with Monsanto’s marketing heft and crop development expertise.
‘Two really big seed companies becoming one big seed company means even less choice for farmers,’ said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, a policy group in Washington.
‘From a public health and environmental perspective this is a complete disaster,’ said Bill Freese... ‘The more I look at this, the more it worries me and the more it needs to be opposed.’”
What’s in a Name?
According to one analyst, the takeover might boost Monsanto’s reputation, as Syngenta has been “less publicly enthusiastic” about genetically engineered (GE) crops.
Personally, I don’t foresee Monsanto ever being able to shed its toxic reputation, no matter how it tries to rebrand itself. It recently tried to do just that by declaring itself "sustainable agriculture company.”
But actions speak louder than mere words, and there’s nothing sustainable about Monsanto’s business. Taking on the Syngenta name would do nothing to change the obnoxious dichotomy between Monsanto’s words and deeds.
In fact, Mother Jones astutely notes that by trying to acquire Syngenta, Monsanto contradicts “years of rhetoric about how its ultimate goal with biotech is to wean farmers off agrichemicals.”
It’s quite clear Monsanto has no desire or plans to help farmers reduce the use of crop chemicals. On the contrary, it has and continues to push for the increased use of its flagship product, Roundup.
Roundup Also Being Used to Harvest Non-GMO Crops
Not only has Monsanto created a line of GE Roundup-ready seeds, it also promotes the use of Roundup on conventional crops, pre-harvest, as described in its Pre-Harvest Staging Guide.3
Applying herbicide directly before harvesting helps dry the crop, boosts the release of seed, and is said to promote long-term control of certain weeds.
The practice is known as desiccation, and according to researchers Samsel and Seneff,4 the desiccation of conventionally grown wheat appears to be linked to the rapid and concurrent rise in celiac disease.
Applying glyphosate, which was recently classified as a Class 2A probable human carcinogen, on crops directly before harvest is one of the dumbest things we could do to our foods, yet Monsanto wholeheartedly supports and promotes it.
Speaking of reputation, Syngenta is hardly a poster child for sustainability and right action either. Not only is it the main supplier of the “gender-bending” herbicide atrazine in the US, it also makes neonicotinoids—a class of insecticide linked to the mass die-offs of bees and other pollinators
Both of these chemicals have come under increasing scrutiny as researchers have learned more about their environmental and human health impacts, and both are banned in Europe while still widely in use in the US.
Suppressing Science for the Chemical Industry?
As scrutiny into the effects of chemicals has intensified, so has strong-arm tactics by the industry, which has successfully infiltrated the very agencies charged with their oversight.
An open letter5 signed by more than 25 farmworker, environmental, and food safety organizations was sent to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on May 5, demanding the agency investigate reports of retaliation and suppression of research relating to the dangers of neonicotinoids and glyphosate.6
"It is imperative that the USDA maintains scientific integrity and does not allow for harassment, censorship, or suppression of findings that counter the interests of industry," the letter states.
In March, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a citizen petition requesting that the US Department of Agriculture adopt new policies that would further job protection for government scientists who question the health and safety of agricultural chemicals.
The petition urges for the agency to adopt policies that would specifically prevent the ‘political suppression or alteration of studies and lay out clear procedures for investigating allegations and of scientific misconduct.’
PEER has found that more than 10 USDA scientists have faced consequences or investigations when their work called into question the health and safety of agricultural chemicals.
These scientists documented clear actions that violated their scientific integrity, including USDA officials retracting studies, watering down findings, removing scientists’ names from authorship, and delaying approvals for publication of research papers.”
Many Elementary School Children at Risk of Elevated Pesticide Exposure
Monsanto’s marketing materials still proclaim its GE crops reduce the need for pesticides, but usage has steadily and significantly risen since the advent of GE seeds. The rapid emergence of resistant superweeds have led the industry to invent crop seeds resistant to even more toxic herbicides, such as 2,4-D and dicamba.
According to Dr. Medardo Ávila-Vázquez,7 a pediatrician and neonatologist at the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the National University of Córdoba, glyphosate use in connection to GMO seeds is having a notably deleterious effect on the health of the local people, particularly children.
In light of the approval of these next-generation pesticides, it would behoove us to take notice to such warnings, because our kids are also becoming increasingly exposed. As reported by Global Research,8 children attending hundreds of elementary schools across the US are in harm’s way as toxic weed killers are doused on nearby GE fields in ever greater amounts:
“A new EWG interactive map shows the amounts of glyphosate sprayed in each US county and tallies the 3,247 elementary schools that are located within 1,000 feet of a corn or soybean field and the 487 schools that are within 200 feet. Click on any county on the map to see how much GMO corn and soy acreage has increased there as well as the number of nearby elementary schools.”
You will see that several states are outlined. This is where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the use of Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist Duo. This new herbicide, which is a mix of glyphosate and 2,4-D, will be used on a new generation of GE corn and soybeans engineered to withstand both of these toxins. Many of these states are already heavily sprayed with Roundup, and with the introduction of Enlist Duo, children who go to school near these farm fields may be exposed to greater risks than ever before.
The Organic Effect
While environmental exposure is certainly a concern, most people are exposed to pesticides via their diet. Claimed to be the largest of its kind, a study9 published in the Environmental Health Perspectives looked at the diets of nearly 4,500 people living in six US cities, assessing exposure levels to organophosphates (OPs), which are among the most commonly used pesticides on American farms.
Participants’ organophosphate levels were estimated using USDA data10 on the average levels of pesticide residue found in the fruits and vegetables that each individual reported eating. To verify the accuracy of their estimates, they compared their calculated pesticide exposures to the actual levels of pesticide metabolites (breakdown products) excreted in the urine of a subset of 720 participants.
Not surprisingly, those who ate conventionally grown produce were found to have high concentrations of OP metabolites, whereas those who ate organic produce had significantly lower levels. Those who “often or always” ate organic had about 65 percent lower levels of pesticide residues compared to those who ate the least amount of organic produce. According to lead author Cynthia Curl: “The study suggests that by eating organically grown versions of those foods highest in pesticide residues, we can make a measurable difference.”
The “organic effect” was also recently demonstrated by a Swedish family that agreed to eat nothing but organic food for two weeks. 11 Pesticide levels were measured before and after the switch, and after a fortnight of eating an all-organic diet, the family members’ toxic load had diminished to virtually nothing. While many organic foods have been shown to contain higher levels of nutrients,12,13,14 one of the major benefits you reap from eating organic is what you don’t get from your diet—all those toxic chemicals!
A Stanford University meta-analysis15 published in 2012 found that people who eat an organic diet not only tend to have lower levels of toxic pesticides in their system, organic meats were also far less likely to contain multi-drug resistant bacteria, which is yet another major health threat.
Many still insist we don’t know what the health ramifications are from eating pesticide-tainted foods, but common sense will tell you the effect is not going to do your health any favors. Many pesticides also do have well-established health effects. Organophosphate (OP) pesticides, for example, have been linked to reduced IQ and attention deficits in children.16,17 Symptoms of exposure include weakness, headache, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
Long-term exposure has been linked to neurological effects, such as18 confusion, anxiety, and depression. According to data19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 75 percent of the US population has detectable levels of OPs in their urine, and unless you’re a farmer, or live near a farm, your diet is one of the most likely routes of exposure. Considering depression affects one in 10 Americans, who’s to say OP pesticide exposure isn’t part of the problem?
Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce
To protect your health, your best bet is to buy only organic fruits and vegetables. That said, not all conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are subjected to the same amount of pesticide load. One way to save some money while still lowering your risk is by focusing on purchasing certain organic items, while “settling” for others that are conventionally grown. To do this, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) annual Shoppers' Guide to Pesticides in Produce.20
Of the fruits and vegetables tested by the EWG for the 2015 guide, the following “dirty dozen” had the highest pesticide load, making them the most important to buy or grow organically. Also remember that swapping your regular meat sources to organic, grass-fed/pasture-raised versions of beef and poultry may be even more important than buying organic fruits and vegetables. The same goes for dairy products and animal by-products such as eggs.
Apples Peaches Nectarines Strawberries Grapes Celery Spinach Sweet bell peppers Cucumbers Cherry tomatoes Imported snap peas Potatoes
In contrast, the following foods were found to have the lowest residual pesticide load, making them the safest bet among conventionally grown vegetables. Note that a small amount of sweet corn and most Hawaiian papaya, although low in pesticides, are genetically engineered (GE). If you’re unsure of whether the sweet corn or papaya is GE, I’d recommend opting for organic varieties. To review the ranking of all foods tested, please see the EWG’s 2015 Shoppers' Guide to Pesticides in Produce.21
Avocado Sweet corn Pineapple Cabbage Frozen sweet peas Onions Asparagus Mangoes Papayas (non-GMO. Most Hawaiian papaya is GMO) Kiwi Eggplant Grapefruit Cantaloupe Cauliflower Sweet potatoes
Where to Find Healthy Food
One of the most compelling reasons to eat organic is to avoid toxins. Organic foods do tend to have a better nutritional profile, but even if they do not, the absence of drugs, pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics is more than enough of a reason to make the switch to protect your health. For a step-by-step guide to making healthier diet choices, please see my freely available optimized nutrition plan, starting with the beginner plan.
While many food stores carry organic foods these days, your best bet is to source it from a local grower, as much of the organic food sold in grocery stores is imported. Not only has this food traveled a long distance, adding to the carbon footprint, but some countries may have more lax organic standards than others.
Buying local food also supports local farmers and promotes the establishment of a more sustainable local food system. If you reside in the US, the following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods in the vicinity of where you live. Even better would be to grow it yourself. The nation’s health would radically improve if we could reestablish World War II Victory gardens.
Weston Price Foundation22 -- has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase organic foods, including grass fed raw dairy products like milk and butter. Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies. Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets. Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada. Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms. FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.
Health Canada to Relabel Roundup Weedkiller
Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide May Be Most Important Factor in Development of Autism and Other Chronic Disease
By Dr. Mercola
A world without bees would be a very different place. Bees are pollinators – and critical ones at that. Of the 100 different crops that make up 90 percent of the world’s diet, bees pollinate 70.
The crops that make up about one out of every three bites of food depend on bees to flourish. Without bees, the fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds that you may currently take for granted at your grocery store could cease to exist… and along with them, the many other species that depend on them for food.
In an effort to show the critical importance of bees, one Whole Foods store removed all produce from plants dependent on pollinators. This involved pulling 237 of 453 products (or 52 percent) from the shelves. A sampling of the produce that disappeared without bees included the following:1
Apples Onions Avocados Carrots Mangos Lemons Limes Honeydew Cantaloupe Zucchini Summer squash Eggplant Cucumbers Celery Green onions Cauliflower Leeks Bok choy Kale Broccoli Broccoli rabe Mustard greens
Honeybee Losses Soar in the US
In the 1940s, there were 5 million managed honeybee colonies in the US. Today there are half that number, while demand for pollination services (for crops including almonds, berries, and more) has increased.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which is basically defined as a dead bee colony with no adult bees, or a colony with a live queen and only immature bees present, is often blamed for the ongoing honeybee losses, but no “official” cause has been named. According to the USDA’s internal research agency, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS):2
“Colony losses from CCD are a very serious problem for beekeepers. Annual losses from the winter of 2006-2011 averaged about 33 percent each year, with a third of these losses attributed to CCD by beekeepers. The winter of 2011-2012 was an exception, when total losses dropped to 22 percent.
A 1-year drop is too short a time period to count as definitive improvement in honey bee colony survivorship. At least 2 to 3 years of consistently lower loss percentages is necessary before it is possible to be sure that CCD is on the decline.”
Indeed, the latest numbers from the USDA show that honeybee losses are, in fact, continuing to climb. From April 2014 to April 2015, losses of honeybee colonies hit 42 percent, which is the second highest annual loss to date.3 This percentage is down from 45 percent in 2012-2013, but remained well above the three prior years’ annual measurements.
Honeybee Losses Are Occurring at an ‘Economically Unsustainable’ Level
The USDA considers 18.7 percent to be the benchmark beyond which the losses become economically unsustainable. Even at the 33 percent level, ARS noted:4
“If losses continue at the 33 percent level, it could threaten the economic viability of the bee pollination industry. Honey bees would not disappear entirely, but the cost of honey bee pollination services would rise, and those increased costs would ultimately be passed on to consumers through higher food costs.”
Jeff Pettis, a USDA senior entomologist, told Reuters regarding the latest numbers:5
"Such high colony losses in the summer and year-round remain very troubling… The bees should be surviving better, but the numbers say otherwise.”
The fact that high summer losses have been noted is also important, as mite infestations are more likely to occur in the winter. Bayer, Syngenta, and other chemical companies have blamed mites as a reason for the bee deaths, but the latest summer losses weaken their argument, according to Pettis. Instead, pesticide exposure is a likely factor.
Pesticide-Coated Seeds May Be Killing Bees
The majority of soybean, corn, canola, and sunflower seeds planted in the US are coated with neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics). The chemicals, which are produced by Bayer and Syngenta, travel systemically through the plants and kill insects that munch on their roots and leaves.
Neonicotinoids are powerful neurotoxins and are quite effective at killing the pests… but they’re also being blamed for decimating populations on non-target pests, namely pollinators such as bees and butterflies.
This occurs because the pesticides are taken up through the plant's vascular system as it grows, and, as a result, the chemical is expressed in the pollen and nectar of the plant.
Despite accumulating evidence that neonics are implicated in widespread bee deaths across the US, Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow, which sell the treated seeds, have no intention of stopping.
In 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released a report that ruled neonicotinoid insecticides are essentially “unacceptable” for many crops,6 and in the US, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) announced that they were restricting the use of 18 pesticide products containing dinotefuran, a type of neonicotinoid.
Neonicotinoids have been increasingly blamed for bee deaths (and were implicated in the 2013 mass bee die-off of 25,000 bumblebees along with millions of bee deaths in Canada), prompting the European Union (EU) to ban them for two years, beginning December 1, 2013, to study their involvement with large bee kills.
Meanwhile, an independent review by 29 scientists with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (which looked at 800 studies) put another nail in the coffin for neonicotinoids. The study found neonicotinoids are gravely harming bees and other pollinators (like butterflies). The research also showed serious harm to birds, earthworms, snails, and other invertebrates.7 One of the researchers, Jean-Marc Bonmatin with the National Centre for Scientific Research, said:8
"The evidence is very clear. We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT… Far from protecting food production, the use of neonicotinoid insecticides is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it."
Monoculture and the Destruction of Grasslands Lead to Bee Death
It’s imperative to understand that agriculture is a complete “system” based on inter-related factors, and in order to maintain ecological balance and health, you must understand how that system works as a whole. Any time you change one part of that system, you change the interaction of all the other components, because they work together. It is simply impossible to change just one minor aspect without altering the entire system, and this is in part why monoculture is so destructive.
Monoculture is the growing of just one type of crop on a massive scale – a growing method that is contrary to nature. NPR commentator and science writer Craig Childs decided to replicate a photo project by David Liittschwager, a portrait photographer who spent years traveling the world dropping one-cubic-foot metal frames into gardens, streams, parks, forests, and oceans, photographing anything and everything that entered the frame.
Around the world, his camera captured thousands of plants, animals, and insects within the cubes, with entirely different “worlds” of plants and animals living as little as a few feet away from each other. But whereas Littschwager’s camera captured several dozens of insects wherever he set up his frames, Childs found nothing stirring among the genetically modified (GM) corn stalks on one 600-acre farm in Iowa. As reported by NPR:9
“It felt like another planet entirely,” Childs said. “I listened and heard nothing, no birds, no clicks from insects. There were no bees. The air, the ground, seemed vacant. Yet, 100 years ago, these same fields, these prairies, were home to 300 species of plants, 60 mammals, 300 birds, hundreds and hundreds of insects… This soil was the richest, the loamiest in the state. And now, in these patches, there is almost literally nothing but one kind of living thing. We’ve erased everything else.
…There's something strange about a farm that intentionally creates a biological desert to produce food for one species: us. It's efficient, yes. But it's so efficient that the ants are missing, the bees are missing, and even the birds stay away. Something's not right here. Our cornfields are too quiet.”
Midwest Bees ‘Get It from All Sides’
GM corn is the epitome of monoculture, and the vast majority of GM corn is treated with neonicotinoids like clothianidin or thiamethoxam. As reported by Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), honeybees in the Midwest “get it from all sides” when the vast expanses of GM corn are planted, as they:10
- “Fly through clothianidin-contaminated planter dust
- Gather clothianidin-laced corn pollen, which will then be fed to emerging larva
- Gather water from acutely toxic, pesticide-laced guttation droplets
- Gather pollen and nectar from nearby fields where forage sources such as dandelions have taken up these persistent chemicals from soil that’s been contaminated year on year since clothianidin’s widespread introduction into corn cultivation in 2003”
And the neonicotinoids are not the only chemicals the bees have to worry about. According to PANNA:11
“Over the last 15 years, US corn cultivation has gone from a crop requiring little-to-no insecticides and negligible amounts of fungicides, to a crop where the average acre is grown from seeds treated or genetically engineered to express three different insecticides (as well as a fungicide or two) before being sprayed prophylactically with Roundup (an herbicide) and a new class of fungicides that farmers didn’t know they 'needed' before the mid-2000s.”
Measures that target single classes of pesticides, though a move in the right direction, may actually be falling short. In 2013, researchers analyzed pollen from bee hives in seven major crops and found 35 different pesticides along with high fungicide loads.12 Each sample contained, on average, nine different pesticides and fungicides, although one contained 21 different chemicals. Furthermore, when the pollen was fed to healthy bees, they had a significant decline in the ability to resist infection with the Nosema ceranae parasite, which has been implicated in CCD.
Pollinators Are Losing Their Natural Foraging Areas
In addition to exposure to agricultural chemicals, mass conversions of grasslands to corn and soy in the Midwest have dramatically reduced bees’ natural foraging areas. This is affecting not only bees but also other pollinators like the Monarch butterfly. Milkweeds are critical to the Monarch’s survival because they’re the only food source for Monarch larvae.
Milkweeds that used to abundantly line the Monarch’s flight path have been largely eradicated by modern agriculture. Not only are chemicals, including the herbicide Roundup, killing the milkweeds, but prairies are being replaced by cornfields, and roadsides are being mowed where milkweeds previously grew wild.
Many equate modern farming techniques with “progress,” when in fact many of our technological “advancements” are now threatening to destroy us right along with the entire planet. There are major differences between industrial farming and regenerative agriculture, and the foods produced by the former cannot be equated to the foods produced by the latter. GM plants and industrial farming contributes to every form of environmental devastation, while organic farming methods support, restore, and rejuvenate the ecosystem.
What Can Help to Save the Bees?
By plowing up grasslands to grow monocrops, we are contributing to environmental destruction and world hunger. One important factor that some experts believe is KEY for reversing environmental devastation is to return much of our land to grasslands and build a network of herbivore economics. There is no better way to improve the conditions for animals, protect pollinators, bring more revenue to farmers, and improve our health by purchasing nutritious foods from properly pastured animals.
By mimicking the natural behavior of migratory herds of wild grazing animals—meaning allowing livestock to graze freely, and moving the herd around in specific patterns—farmers can support nature's efforts to regenerate and thrive, while providing natural, chemical-free foraging area for pollinators and other beneficial insects.
The good news is that we don't need to invent yet another chemical or a new piece of farm equipment to solve this problem. We simply need to revert to a system that works with nature rather than against it. And this involves grazing cattle. My previous article discussing the work of ecologist Allan Savory goes into this process in greater detail.
Further, to avoid harming bees and other helpful pollinators that visit your garden, swap out toxic pesticide and lawn chemicals for organic weed and pest control alternatives. Even some organic formulations can be harmful to beneficial insects, so be sure to vet your products carefully. Better yet, get rid of your lawn altogether and plant an edible organic garden. Both flower and vegetable gardens provide good honeybee habitats. It's also recommended to keep a small basin of fresh water in your garden or backyard, as bees actually do get thirsty.
In order to support the Monarch butterflies, consider planting a locally appropriate species of milkweed in your garden, on your farm, or wherever you manage habitat. You can use the Milkweed Seed Finder to locate seeds in your area. Whatever you choose to grow, please avoid purchasing pesticide-treated plants. Cut flower growers are among the heaviest users of toxic agricultural chemicals, including pesticides, so if you must buy cut flowers, make sure you select only organically grown and/or fair trade bouquets.
Ideally, you'll want to grow your own pollinator-friendly plants from organic, untreated seed, but if you opt to purchase starter plants, make sure to ask whether or not they've been pre-treated with pesticides. Keep in mind that you also help protect the welfare of all pollinators every time you shop organic and grass-fed, as you are actually “voting” for less pesticides and herbicides with every organic and pastured food and consumer product you buy.
You can take bee preservation a step further by trying your hand at amateur beekeeping. Maintaining a hive in your garden requires only about an hour of your time each week, benefits your local ecosystem—and you get to enjoy your own homegrown honey!
The Tragic Mistake That Now Threatens 1 Out of Every 3 Bites You Eat
Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?