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Corporate actions happens for many reasons. Sometimes they are tied to economic shifts, other times ephemeral political winds are a trigger or as we all know technological revolutions like transgenics can cause major upheavals. This week two major agribusinesses have taken actions to correct some serious wrongs. Mind you, they are not admitting anything, they're just throwing money at two problems that they contributed to originally. Step in the right direction? Yep. Enough to make a major difference? Nope.

Monsanto whose popular weed killer Roundup has been blamed, in part, by critics for knocking out monarch butterflies' habitat, said it is committing $4 million to efforts to stem the worrisome decline of the black-and-orange insects. They are donating the funds to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund -- one-third of that money matches what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is contributing. The remaining funds will be set aside to mirror what other federal agencies plan to offer over the next three years. But to be clear, this contribution focuses on habitat restoration, not chemical assessment.

Then the state of New York announced that, after negotiations with the global agribusiness conglomerate Archer Daniels Midland, ADM will adopt a no-deforestation policy for soy and palm oil. This comes at a critical time because evidence indicates that after years of progress, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is increasing again. Just outside the Brazilian Amazon — in Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, and in Brazil’s Cerrado region people have been cutting down the forests where there has been less pressure to stop. The move from ADM provides a clear warning to farmers who are considering the costs and benefits of clearing more land.

ADM laid out a specific set of commitments and a plan for implementation. This announcement is the latest in a cascade of no-deforestation commitments set off when Wilmar, the largest palm-oil company, pledged to stop buying from suppliers who cut down rainforest. ADM owns 16 percent of Wilmar.

“ADM has a steadfast commitment to the development of traceable and transparent agricultural supply chains that protect forests worldwide,” wrote Victoria Podesta, ADM’s chief communications officer, in an email. “We are confident that our No Deforestation policy is both strong and appropriate for our company.”

Last year, another agribusiness, Cargill, announced a plan to stop buying all commodities that caused deforestation. While this ADM commitment is more narrowly focused on soy and palm oil, it applies more stringent rules than the Cargill pledge, said Ben Cushing, spokesperson for the advocacy group Forest Heroes. “For soy, this puts ADM out front,” he said.

As the awareness of the devastating destruction and health issues that surround palm oil and soy, this move may have as much to do with supply chain management than altruism. A closer look at the 'why' reveals that while a group of NGOs — Forest Heroes, Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Wildlife Federation, SumOfUs, and NRDC all urged the company to make its business more sustainable, it was the New York State Common Retirement Fund that asked ADM to take this step. The retirement fund holds $83.1 million in ADM stock.

Today half of the world's population of honeybees have disappeared. Not only are the honeybees vanishing, but the entire interdependent chain that links animal to plant life is being disrupted. As honeybees disappear, so do many naturally grown fruits and vegetables. A sad day indeed for humans. But aside from the food they pollinate, they are also integral to the reproduction of many plants and flowers that benefit other species.

No Answers
Researchers are scrambling to find answers to what they are calling one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world. There has been a range of theories to try to explain the honeybees' disappearance. Mites and the pesticides used to control them; viruses, fungi or poor bee nutrition; radiation from mobile phones interfering with honeybee navigation systems; solar flare activity; even the geomagnetic orientation of the Earth. But none of these theories can identify what or why these home loving species stray or why their disappearance has become a global phenomenon.

The Cost of Human Interference
Follow me to a story that broke in 2005, but has been under study since the mid 90s. Rogue elephants, first in India then Africa started attacking villages. What made this so unusual was the pachyderms were using human intelligence to carry out the assault, like blocking escape routes and pinning down humans before goring them to death.

The reason for the meyhem? Researchers think it's an emergent, species-wide, emotional breakdown. The result of human interference over extended periods of time, the consequence of which has lead to the destruction of important social bonds in elephant kingdoms.

[img_assist|nid=534|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=231|height=235]Honeybees, like elephants are highly evolved and have given rise to thousands of descendant species, some of which live a solitary life and others that lived in colonies. The honeybee is one of the earth's most social and ecologically important creatures. They pollinate over 90 per cent of the world's food crops. They live in societies that rival our own in size and complexity. A single nest may contain as many as 30,000 bees. Together they build and repair their home, harvest and prepare food for the entire colony and instruct the next generation in honeybee behaviour including learning how to fly. Scouts find the flowers that provide a high yield of nectar or pollen by merging many sources of information including the position of the sun and the subtle nuance of a flower's scent. When a spot promises abundance, they fly back to the nest and waggle out a GPS-type dance which provides the exact directions to the field of plenty.

They never sleep nor do they hibernate during the winter and they manage all this with less than one million neurons contained in brain tissue that is smaller than a single cubic millimeter. That’s a neural density 10 times higher than our own cerebral cortex. In fact, honeybee neurons are so advanced we have neither the skill nor the imagination to understand how they are interconnected.

Why Are Bees Taking Flight?
In many cases commercial honeybees are so domesticated, they can no longer live without human support. They are stored in air tight containers where pathogens grow from the inside out. They are fed artificial sugar water and trucked for thousands of miles in short periods of time, in order to maximize business opportunities during pollination season. Then, to add insult to injury, the are continually exposured to a myriad of insecticides and pesticides. The belief is that all of these factors combined create enormous stress on commercial hive activity.

Now add the wild bees. Yep, they're disappearing too. Scientists at University of Leeds compared a million records on bees from hundreds of sites in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands before and after 1980. They found that bee diversity has declined nearly 80 percent at tested sites. In the southern Indian state of Karnataka, once a major honey producer, up to 90% of the indigenous bee colonies were destroyed by an imported virus in the early 1990s. In Rimouski, Quebec, the bee populations have also been decimated. In Iraq, the toxic effects of the Gulf War (smoke due to burning oil wells) that have destroyed 90% of the bee colonies.

From malformations, nervous system problems and disorientation to behavioural problems, bees are manifesting all sorts of symptoms that reveal a fragile state of health. Some bees cannot find their way back to their hive after leaving it. Others are rejected when they return because they are not recognized by the rest of the group.

The new insecticides introduced in the 1980s are neurotoxins which are spread when crops are sown (sunflower, soy, etc.) and serve to protect them against their various predators. Studies are showing that the toxic chemicals remain on the plant throughout its growth cycle right through the flowering period. The nectar eaten by bees also contains chemical residues that are deeply harmful to them. Hence, honey production has dropped by a third generally, and by up to 90% in some areas.

Our urban foot has also taken a terrible toll on a honeybee's natural state. Pollinators work on a limited range of flowers. But they have to fly further and further afield to gather the pollen because their supportive environment is disappearing. This has a disastrous effect on honeybees in particular. While most pollinators pick up fertilizing spores accidentally while trolling flowers for nectar, honeybees collect pollen to feed their young.

The Domino Effect
But what the Leeds study goes on to say is even more disturbing. It turns out the decline in bees is linked to a decline in plant diversity. Where bee diversity has decreased, so too have the wildflowers that require specific insects for pollination. The phenomena, called the domino effect, triggers a chain reaction disrupting the interrelation of animals and plants. In short, the decline in honeybees could be triggering a cascade of local extinctions.

The Domino Theory became reality in Yellowstone Park in the 1920s. Apparently, the wolves were trying to tell us something too. In 1914, the United States Congress approved funding to destroy the wolves in the park and surrounding areas to help ranchers protect their livestock. The wolves were systematically killed- the last known wolf pack disappeared in 1926. Sixty years later the Gray Wolf was listed as endangered.

But what happened in the regions where the wolves disappeared shocked everyone. The forests went quiet. The systematic removal of wolves tipped the domino effect. Over the following decades, adverse changes occurred in the park that scientists couldn't explain including the disappearance of songbirds. They ultimately discovered wolves effect elk, elk affect aspen and willows, aspens/willows affect beavers and beavers affect trout and songbirds.

The scientists at Oregon University analyzed subsequent data to show a clear and remarkable linkage between the presence of wolves and the health of an entire streamside ecosystem, including two species of cottonwoods and the important roles they play in soil erosion control, stream health, and nurturing diverse plant and animal life.

Given this evidence, it is perfectly logical to assume the disappearance of bees could very likely damage the prospects of associated species. Perhaps that's the most sobering of all because in the environmental game of domino humanity is the last tile.

Yet Another Extinction?
As our self-sufficiency declines and our material consumption rises, we are taking a direct hit to our future wellbeing. We have a long history of continually changing the environment to suit us, literally pushing out other lifeforms. And while we are sadden by yet another story of species extinction, previous to the bees disappearing, we haven't been directly affected. But this time, we are destroying a social structure that is essential to our own.

But the strangest part of the missing bee mystery is by far the most interesting. There are no dead bees. There are a few dead soldiers scattered on the ground, but we're talking millions and millions of bees here. They're not in the hive, at the hive, or close by. Many abandoned hives full of honey. So where did they go? Perhaps the honeybees had enough of our interference. Perhaps they know where we're headed and just prefer to fly away.

A 2014 study in Food Chemistry shows high levels of glyphosate—the active weed-killing chemical in Monsanto's Roundup—are turning up in thousands of nonorganic packaged foods including those labelled 'natural' and in animal feed for livestock like pigs, cows, chickens, and turkeys.

BT Soy is the second largest crop in the US after BT corn. According to the US Department of Agriculture more than 90 percent of the soybeans on farms are genetically engineered to withstand herbicides, like glyphosate based Roundup.In comparison, organic production of soy is marginal accounting for less than 1 percent of total US acreage devoted to soy. While the transgenic legumes are often not eaten directly, we are exposed to them more often than you may think. Post harvest, the majority of transgenic soy is processed into either meal which goes into animal feed that becomes the meat on our dinner plate and fat which is primarly used as cooking oil or in processed food products. According to the US Soy Board, soy accounts for 61 percent of vegetable oil consumption, so we're swallowing it every time we use the transgenic oil laced with glyphosate in food prep. The researchers also discovered that the transgenic legumes were nutritionally inferior.

The Norwegian study detected a whopping 9 milligrams of Roundup per kilogram, on average. That's nearly double what Monsanto—the maker of Roundup—deemed "extreme" in 1999, according to an article in The Ecologist. That explains why the EPA has quietly raised allowable residue limits of glyphosate in soy by 200 percent.

Biotech crop supporters say there is a wealth of evidence that the crops on the market are safe, but critics argue that after only 14 years of commercialized GMOs, it is still unclear whether or not the technology has long-term adverse effects.

What's at issue is glypshoate is systemic -- meaning that when used it can settle not only on the outside of the plant as residue but inside the plant cells where it can't washed off. As soy is in much of our food supply, this new study is worth thinking about. Mounting evidence links glyphosate to infertility, Parkinson's disease, certain cancers and birth defects, yet transgenic soy continues to pop up in foods we wouldn’t dream they would be including baby formula. An increasing number of concerned parents and pediatricians have voiced concerns that using transgenic ingredients in infant formula is far too large of a risk to take. Babies are particularly vulnerable because their digestive and immune systems are not fully developed and transgenic crops like soy, corn and sugar cane have very high exposure to dangerous pesticides such as Roundup. Infant livers do not reach maturity for about two years and are less equipped to process toxins in the body, such as the high levels of chemicals used on genetically modified foods.

“For the infant that is unable to nurse I insist upon an organic commercial formula,” says pediatrician Michelle Perro. “Because of the toxic effects of herbicides, particularly glyphosate (due to its prolific usage) as well as other organophosphates and genetically engineered foods in non-organic commercial formulas, these are not an option for infant feeding. In order to ensure the health of our infants and children, there is no amount of acceptable herbicide or GMO that should be in their diets.”

The main food processors that use transgenic soy are Abbott Laboratories which manufacturers Similac, Mead Johnson Nutrition which manufacturers Enfamil, and Nestlé which manufacturers Gerber Good Start.

Golden Rule: Always Wash Produce Before Eating Even If It's Organic
For your health and the health of your family, be committed. Always wash produce before eating. Whether just picked them from the garden or if the produce is marked as organic, wash thoroughly before consuming to remove the bacterial matter that may have deposited during handling and transportation.

The Basics
1. Washing produce.
Some advocate soaking produce in cold water for up to 15 minutes for produce with deep crevices like cauliflower or broccoli. Research also shows baking soda can help remove pesticides from produce. Simply mix baking soda with water to make sodium bicarbonate, at a ratio of one teaspoon of baking soda to two cups of water. Then soak produce for 15 minutes and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Washing fruits and vegetables with a vinegar rinse might leave a vinegar residue.

For fragile fruit like grapes, hold under cool running water for 30 seconds, rubbing the fruit gently. Then, put fruit in a clean bowl and fill with cool, clean water until fruit is completely covered. Soak for 5-10 minutes.

Never rinse produce with soap. It does more harm than good because soap tends to contain harmful compounds that can easily penetrate the skin of the fruits.

Dry thorough before consuming to remove any remaining pesticide residue.

Peel away outer layers of dark leafy greens and other vegetables. Pesticide compounds can enter the peel of the produce. Washing and drying does not remove it. It may sound wasteful, but it's important particularly if you're feeding children and seniors.

2. Identify produce with highest pesticide load. Go online to (Environment Working Group). This research group is a nonprofit dedicated to health and planetary wellbeing. As well as other research around drinking water and the environment, they publish an annual 'Dirty Dozen' list of produce with the heaviest pesticide load and a 'clean' list.

3. Be aware that imported foods or processed produce, particularly from the US are often processed with GMO ingredients that have been heavily sprayed with pesticides. This goes for the frozen section of your grocery store as well.

Organic products tend to be a bit more expensive than the commercially sprayed produce. If cost is a factor, when purchasing regular produce follow washing instructions above.

4. If you grow your own produce, use organic repellents in your garden whether in the backyard or on your balcony. There are a wide array of safe, organic and soybean-based repellents on the market that are just as efficient as the synthetic ones.

A new organic pesticide developed at New Mexico State University is showing great promise. Called NMX, the essential oil-based pesticide is a safe alternative to conventional chemical pesticides and solutions. NMSU Microbiologist Geoffrey Smith developed NMX with a team of three researchers, who discovered that a mixture of essential oils from common desert plants can help defend against fungus, bacteria, nematodes and some insects, such as thrips. Individual components in the essential oils have been used before as pesticides, but the NMSU team found that by keeping all the elements together, the essential oils had a synergistic effect that is much more powerful.

This environmentally “green” biocide has already been tested in lab, greenhouse and field trials in the U.S. and Mexico on a variety of plants, including tomatoes, chile, bell peppers onions and turfgrass. If approved for commercialization, the new eco-friendly product could find a ready market in California’s Salinas Valley, where some of the world’s biggest organic commercial growers are based including growers of leafy vegetables, which today have very few natural pesticides to protect their crops.

Canada is California's top agricultural export market. Canadians imported $6.6 billion in bilateral agricultural trade in 2014 which included $1.7B in fruit and nuts and over $914M in vegetables. That includes $271 million in strawberries alone and that's a lot of pesticide residue. In 2018, for the third year in a row, strawberries topped the "Dirty Dozen" list put out by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) as the most pesticide-loaded produce.

Food is the single largest contributor to landfills today. In Canada, an estimated $27 billion in Canadian food annually finds its way to landfill creating unnecessarily high levels of carbon and methane. That's approximately 40% of all the food we produce. As consumers, we are responsible for more food waste farmers, grocery stores, restaurants or any part of the food supply chain.

The Save the Food campaign by the Ad Council and Natural Resources Defense Council in the US has taken on an awareness campaign about food waste by producing a light-hearted video which tackles the very serious subject. The video follows the life of a single strawberry through a whirlwind of harvesting, transportation, packaging, storage and just for fun tosses in a love interest subplot with a lime. The campaign aims to change household behaviour to reduce food waste, and in turn, minimize environmental and economic impacts.

The Save the Food campaign points out a 4-person family loses $1500 a year on wasted food. That saving is equivalent to a raise. Luckily we can turn the tide by being part of the solution. The food storage section on the site is filled with specific information about your favorite foods. You’ll learn how to store them, freeze them, and keep them at their best longer. You’ll also find helpful tips about safety and ways to revive food.

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Food Waste in Canada

The line between genetically engineered fodder and natural food is once again being blurred thanks to the Canadian government. Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency rammed through approval of genetically modified salmon without public consultation or assessment of the potential effects on natural fish being affected by GM fish escaping into the wild or its impact of human health. And, once again, the transgenic fish that are in our grocery stores need no labelling. Why? The GMO fish mongers know consumers won’t buy it. Polls show that the vast majority of Canadians (88%) want mandatory labeling of all genetically modified foods and 45% say they won’t eat GMO salmon.

Health Canada, just like its counterpart the FDA in the U.S., caved-in to pressure from a powerful international biotech lobby, instead of listening to the concerns of independent science. Instead the department released an announcement that after "thorough and rigorous scientific reviews” of AquaAdvantage's genetically modified salmon, the transgenic fish is “as safe and nutritious for humans and livestock as conventional salmon.”

Aside from lumping humans and livestock into one category, this sound bite rings hallow when examined closely. Wild salmon are high in essential Omega-3 fatty acids. Not so with GE fish. Eric Hoffman, Friends of the Earth, U.S., noted that the insertion of ocean-pout DNA into Chinook salmon causes the production of growth hormone year-around. No long-term safety tests were conducted to determine if there would be potential negative consequences on public health or on heritage salmon should this genetic aberration escape into the wild, which they did in August, 2017.

Both the FDA and Health Canada ignored warnings from Canadian government research scientists (Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Office of Aquatic Biotechnology, Draft Risk Review, 2013). These scientists found significant problems with the GE fish, including greater susceptibility to disease (which may require the use of potent antibiotics), and widely inconsistent growth rates. It was also noted that the genetically engineered fish may produce a hormone that can increase cancer risk in humans if they consume the transgenic fish.

So far, Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans are fighting approval of the commercial production of GM fish eggs in court, both in Canada and the US, arguing Health Canada and CFIA failed to meet the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. And about 60 US-based grocers and retailers, including Costco, Whole Foods and Red Lobster, have pledged not to sell the fish in their stores.

But it’s up to Canadian consumers to build on the momentum both at the check out counter and at the ballot box.

Food Safety Magazine published an interesting study on food recalls. The publication tallied recalls from 2015 data from three different agencies—the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS), and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The results produced some disturbing insights.

According to the report, the good citizens of Canada and the US experienced 629 food recalls in 2015. One third was due to common, repeat allergens - wheat, eggs, peanuts and dairy, soy, sulfites and various types of tree nuts. Milk was one of the most undeclared food allergens.

Microbiological contamination was equally disturbing. In May 2015, evidence of Clostridium botulinum, a potentially lethal neurotoxin that paralyzes muscles was discovered in canned seafood. At the time, the recall was blamed on an unnamed pathogen. Fast-forward five months and 14 more canned seafood products were recalled -- primarily of cans of albacore tuna and salmon.

July 2015 saw the merger of Kraft Foods Group and H.J. Heinz Company. The new company, Kraft Heinz Company had an abysmal food safety record. Barbecue sauce, Oscar Mayer turkey bacon and even their iconic Kraft slices were all subject to recall. Even bottled water. In June of that year, Niagara Bottling LLC recalled their bottled water because Escherichia coli may have been present in the water probably due to human or animal waste at two Pennsylvania plants. The recall affected over 14 different brands.

Contamination of fresh produce occurred at several stages across the production chain which includes harvesting from the field or orchard, transporting, processing, distribution or display marketing at the grocery store. The report cites seven apple recalls. All but one was due to Listeria monocytogenes contamination. Others included Dole bagged spinach in 13 states due to salmonella bacteria and in April, prepared foods that were sold at a number of major retailers, including Target and Costco. Food products contained spinach potentially contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

Most cases of product or food contamination have fairly identifiable causes. Sometimes a product gets into the wrong package, or something gets left out of a label or the label is misrepresenting a fact. That was the case with a General Mills recall in that year. The corporation recalled two of their most popular cereals — original Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios. The boxes were labeled as “gluten-free” but breakfast foods contained wheat.

Sometimes, it’s a mystery how the contamination occurred. Food companies in question often respond before the full scope of the contamination can be traced in order to keep exposure and bad press to a minimum. In the beginning of June 2016, General Mills issued a voluntary recall of 10 MILLION pounds of flour because of a suspected health threat risk although there was no clear evidence of cross-contamination. In that same time frame, a century-old Tennessee company, Grain Craft, announced “the intermittent presence of peanuts” in their soft red winter wheat. The FDA tested the Grain Craft mill in question and found no peanut protein, meaning the contamination happened after harvest and processing.

Grain Craft is among the largest independent flour millers in the United States. They don't sell to the public, they sell to the food processors. So the potential for numerous popular brands and food types to be affected by cross-contamination is very real. On June 3, 2016, the first commercial food processor pulled their branded products that used Grain Craft's flour. Hostess recalled over 700,000 products containing the suspect flour after receiving two adverse events involving children with peanut allergies who suffered immediate allergic reactions after consuming Hostess donut products. Further testing on other shipments of flour as well as finished food products revealed low level peanut residues. Soon Kellogg and Pepsi Co issued massive recalls of products that use Grain Craft flour. Meanwhile Grain Craft was frantically recalling millions of pounds of the suspect flour.

On the same day of the General Mills recall, Kashi, owned by Kellogg, announced another major recall of its granola and granola bars The bars in question contained ingredients made from sunflower kernels potentially contaminated with Listeria monocytongenes bacteria. The recall was part of an expanded recall by multi national SunOpta Corp which specializes in organic, non-genetically modified foods.

Whether the contamination occurs in the field, or on the factory floor, clearly, there is a lot of room for improvement on behalf of both the food industry and our regulators.