American Elephants


Science and Health and Science Scaredy-Cats by The Elephant's Child

Oh dear, O dear! I believe this was the evening when we were, all across the world, at precisely Eight o’clock — supposed to turn off all our lights and sit in the dark for an hour to save the earth, or show our empathy for those who are deeply concerned about the climate and the earth and the future. I usually see enough reminders to remember to turn on all my lights to demonstrate my skepticism.

I grew up in Idaho, in what you might call the foothills of the Rockies,  mostly outside, winter or summer. Winter was for sledding, and we had a splendid sledding hill, or building snow forts, but let me not drift off into reminiscing. Some winters we had little snow, not much more than 3 feet on the level. Other years, 5 or 6 feet. Some years we could skate on the river, others not. Been snowed in. When it gets down to 20° below, all the hairs in your nose freeze. The climate has warmed over the last century, somewhere around one degree. The Paris Climate Agreement would not have prevented any measurable amount of warming.

The Paul Erlich’s of the world have always believed in overpopulation and consequent hunger and starvation. Yet what has happened is that the very small amount of increased CO2 in the atmosphere has meant the greening of the planet, less famine and more food.

Most packaged goods in the grocery store will carry the admonition somewhere on the label that there are no GMO ingredients  (genetically modified organisms) in their offering, yet I just saw the notice today that another country (in this case Canada) has approved “golden rice”, a strain of rice to which a carotene-producing gene is added.

In many areas of Asia, vitamin A  is devastatingly rare in the diet of many children, causing blindness and altered immunity. Since rice is the dietary staple, adding it to rice can save children from the deficiency.  Nearly 500 million children are said to be deficient. Yet the usual suspects (the anti-GM foods nuts at Greenpeace) have fits claiming all sorts of disasters from the golden rice. The link is to a story from ASCH which also explains the Gates Foundation’s work in fortifying bananas with beta-carotene for the highlands of East Africa where the dietary staple is bananas. There is another banana in Papua New Guinea that contains so much beta carotene that they are orange, and they can simply transplant the gene that produces it into Africa’s cooking banana.

I wandered a bit all over the planet with this post, which started with telling you that I forgot to turn on all the lights to celebrate President Trump’s exit from the Paris Climate Agreement, the loonies who flunked high school biology and chemistry and are terrified of science, and the advances of science in preventing blindness and death in the children of some areas of Asia. ASCH — the American Council on Science and Health is a dandy website for understanding what’s going on in this part of the world. You can sign up for a free subscription, and they’ll send a brief note to your mailbox with the latest news. The Little Black Book of Junk Science by  Alec Berezow is newly available and is just what the title implies.

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Genetically Engineered Suspicion and Paranoia in California. by The Elephant's Child

“A fight over genetically engineered foods has been
heating up in the nation’s grocery aisles.
Now it’s headed for the ballot box”

Unbelievable. Every time you think that California has finally dropped off  the West Coast and drifted away into Never-Never land, they pop back up with some other weirdness in the news.  Banning ‘Happy Meals” and pet goldfish is not enough, now voters will decide whether to make California the first state in the country to require labels on products such as sweet corn whose genes have been altered to make them resistant to pests.

Proposition 37 will be a big-money battle pitting natural food businesses and activists against multinational companies such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Kellogg.  Backers and opponents have already raised nearly $4 million to sway the minds of the state’s voters, and it will expand into tens of millions as the November election approaches.

There is no health magic contained in “organic” food. The magic occurs in the idea that using manure is more “natural” than fertilizing with nitrogen derived from carbon-based fossil fuels. The only qualifications for food to be “organic” is in the process of growing only with “natural” fertilizer, and “natural” pesticide — usually derived from pyrethiums, an extraordinarily poisonous substance. Activists have a semi-religious belief that anything derived from petroleum must be evil. Organic food is not better for you, not healthier, not fresher, and about 30% more expensive.

Genetic engineering has been peacefully going on for centuries, but when accomplished by scientists instead of by the wind and happenstance it supposedly somehow becomes threatening. Visitors to Mesa Verde, and to the museum there, may have seen corn cobs that were the genetic predecessors of today’s tasty ears. Tiny, only 3″ to 4″ long.

Genetic engineering has created “golden rice” by adding  beta carotene to rice for areas of the world with great Vitamin A deficiency. A lack of Vitamin A means millions of deaths and thousands of cases of blindness, with the worst effects on  children and pregnant women. The original strain has been improved and studies show that it performs as hoped. Crop yields are also higher . It is hoped that it will clear the final regulatory hurdles and reach the market in 2013. The Gates Foundation and Helen Keller International have been supporting development efforts.

Anti-GMO activists like Greenpeace have the usual conspiracy theories, and quasi-religious objections to any genetic engineering. Their noise has been sufficient to scare the gullible, hence the presence of Proposition 37 on the California ballot. GMO foods have been declared completely safe by U.S. regulators, but it’s easy to scare people with hints of “the unknown.” People have been scared by the term “genetically engineered,” and the people who sell products containing GMO foods are worried about losing sales.
70% to 80% of all processed foods sold in supermarkets could be affected as well as a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

We are so blessed in the great variety of foods available to us today. Relax and enjoy.




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