Opinion: Pesticide Safety Unproven (André Leu)

By André Leu

It might surprise you to learn that there is no scientific proof of safety for the majority of the pesticides, additives or chemicals that companies put in our food and our body care and household products. Most are not tested, and when there is testing, it misses the vast majority of diseases at the normal rates at which they occur due to faulty protocols.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is a global epidemic of non-communicable chronic diseases: “Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, are the leading cause of mortality in the world. This invisible epidemic is an under-appreciated cause of poverty and hinders the economic development of many countries. The burden is growing — the number of people, families and communities afflicted is increasing.”

You cannot catch these diseases from other people. Their multiple causes are a result of environment and lifestyle. This means that we can prevent them by changing our habits and our food consumption so as to avoid the environmental exposures and lifestyle factors that cause them.

Pesticides and chemicals are strongly implicated in this global epidemic, but the full extent of their role is being ignored by researchers and health professionals. This is because the current best practice testing guidelines for pesticides, food additives and chemicals are designed to miss the majority of diseases. Let’s look at these guidelines to understand why.

Best Practice Testing Guidelines

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for the Testing of Chemicals are regarded as best practice for testing animals for diseases caused by chemicals such as pesticides and are similar to most good practice testing guidelines.

Guideline 451 is used for testing chemicals, such as pesticides, for cancers. It requires that “Each dose group and concurrent control group should therefore contain at least 50 animals of each sex.” This is a group of 100 animals, with an equal number of males and females. The guidelines also state that “At least three dose levels and a concurrent control should be used.”

This means that there must be one group of 100 animals, usually rats, as the control and are not dosed with the chemical. There will be three other groups of 100 rats in each group, each given a dosage of the chemical — one a high dose, one a medium dose and one a low. The numbers of cancers in each of the dosed groups are compared with the number of cancers in the control group. If the number of cancers is the same between the treated group and the control, then the researchers will conclude that the cancers were not caused by the chemical but by some other means, since the control group has not been exposed to the chemical. This result is then used to say that a chemical or pesticide does not cause cancer.

However, there are serious flaws in this method. If just one animal from one of the dosed groups gets cancer, while none from the control group do, then the test results will say that the chemical caused one animal in 100 to contract cancer. This is the lowest theoretical rate of detection, and it means that cancer would only be detected if the pesticide caused more than 1,000 people per 100,000 to get cancer. The test could thus fail to detect lower rates of cancer. The problem is that actual rates of cancer from environmental exposure are often below 1 percent.

Rates of diseases are reported as the number of people with the disease per 100,000 people. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rates of common cancers such as lung cancer are 57.5 people per 100,000; colon and rectum cancer 38 per 100,000; non- Hodgkin lymphoma 18.4 per 100,000; leukemias 13.2 per 100,000; pancreatic cancer 12.8 per 100,000; and liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancers 8.3 per 100,000.

For sex-specific cancers such as breast, ovarian, cervical, endometrial, prostate and testicular cancers, the lowest theoretical level of detection is one animal in 50 because there are just 50 animals of each sex in a group. This means that these cancers would only be detected by Guideline 451 tests if there are more than 2,000 cases of cancer per 100,000 people.

Consequently, despite no evidence of cancer being found in the dosed groups, the study would miss a chemical that could be causing common cancers. According to the CDC, in 2015 the rate of breast cancer was 124.8 women per 100,000; prostate cancer was 99.1 men per 100,000; ovarian cancer was 11 per 100,000; cancer of the cervix 7.6 per 100,000; and testicular cancer 5.6 per 100,000.

There is no statistically valid way to determine that a dosed group of 100 animals that shows no sign of cancer can determine that the chemical in question cannot cause cancer at rates below 1,000 people per 100,000. All of the current cancers found in our communities will be missed.

As an example, breast cancer affects 124.8 women per 100,000 in the United States. To positively determine if a pesticide does not cause this cancer, an experiment would need a control of 10,000 rats along with three dose groups of 10,000 rats each — 40,000 rats total. However, as far as I know, no such experiment has ever been done, so there is no evidence that pesticides are not contributing to breast cancer and that the levels in our food are safe. On the other hand, there is evidence showing that some pesticides are contributing to this cancer epidemic.

Other Diseases

OECD Guideline 408 is used for testing whether toxic chemicals cause diseases. It requires that “At least 20 animals (10 female and 10 male) should be used at each dose level.” Like cancer Guideline 451, Guideline 408 states that “At least three dose levels and a concurrent control should be used.” Guideline 408 states that a descending sequence of dose levels should be selected with a view to demonstrating any dosage related response and a NOAEL (No Observable Adverse Effect Level) at the lowest dose level. This is based on the dosage of the pesticide that does not cause any adverse effects to organs, tissues and other body functions of the test animals, compared to the control animals that have not been dosed with the pesticide.

Under Guideline 408, one animal in 20 with a disease means that the disease could only be detected to a minimum of 5,000 cases per 100,000. For sex-specific diseases such as endometriosis and declines in fertility, the level of disease detection is just 10,000 cases per 100,000 people. This means that if there is no evidence of disease in the highest dose group then the test will miss a chemical that could be causing a chronic disease epidemic at the normal rates at which they occur.

Not everybody who is exposed to a toxic substance that causes cancer or other diseases will get these diseases. Some people seem to be immune to them, such as people who have smoked tobacco and/or consumed alcohol all their lives and live to be 80 or 100. This is despite alcohol and tobacco being classed as Type 1 carcinogens — the highest level. However, there are other people who are sensitive to the smallest amounts of substances and can get seriously ill from this exposure.

The NOAELs established by the current testing protocols cannot test for subgroups of people who are particularly sensitive to the smallest exposures to these chemicals. Most importantly, the OECD guidelines cannot test for most of the diseases that afflict our communities. As an example, the CDC gives the following numbers for some of the major diseases in the United States: 1,600 people per 100,000 have liver disease; kidney disease is 2,000 per 100,000; and stroke affects 3,000 people per 100,000. These diseases will be missed by the current best practice guidelines, which can only detect diseases to a minimum of 5,000 cases per 100,000 people. The only way this could be done statistically would be to have greater numbers of test subjects.

Autism Spectrum of Diseases

There is an autism epidemic in the developed world. According to the CDC, in 2014 the rates of autism were 1,680 children per 100,000, or one child in 59. In 2000 it was 670 children per 100,000, or one child in 150. This is a startling 250 percent increase in 14 years.

A dramatic increase in a disease like this should be attributed to environmental and lifestyle factors rather than genetics. The current best practice testing guidelines will fail to detect if chemical/chemicals are causing this massive epidemic in our children. The OECD guidelines cannot detect a disease below 5,000 cases per 100,000. There is no way they could statistically detect a disease epidemic that affects 1,680 children per 100,000.

The other major factor for not finding the chemical/chemicals responsible for an epidemic like autism is the fact that there has never been any testing of diseases in children. The OECD guidelines state, “young healthy adult animals of commonly used laboratory strains should be employed.” Fetuses, babies and pubertal animals (i.e., children) are not tested. This means that there will be no data on the safety of pesticides and other chemicals for children.

The developing fetus, young childhood and going through puberty are three very critical periods in the development of humans and are completely ignored under the guidelines for diseases and cancer. There is no published scientific evidence-based testing to show that any of the current chemicals and pesticides are safe for our children, because there is no requirement to specifically test for them.

There are many published studies that show that chemicals, including pesticides such as glyphosate and organophosphates, are significant contributors to the ADHD, autism, schizophrenia and bipolar spectrums of diseases because of the way they damage developing nerve cells. The brain is the largest collection of nerve cells.

However, the full extent of their roles in causing multiple diseases will not be known until the guidelines for testing chemicals are changed to reflect the real rate of diseases in our communities, especially for children. The schizophrenia and bipolar spectrum of diseases typically start around puberty and early adulthood, but without testing for pesticides and other chemicals during the development of the fetus, childhood and puberty, there is no way to determine if they are contributing to this disease.

Many diseases such as autism and ADHD are evident at birth. There needs to be testing on the mother and fetus to see if small amounts of pesticides are contributing to these disease epidemics.

Ideally, these tests should be intergenerational, testing the parents first, then the pregnant mothers and their offspring throughout their development and life. OECD Guideline 416, “Two-Generation Reproduction Toxicity,” is the only methodology to cover this. It is focused primarily on reproductive effects, and if it were modified to test more than 10,000 pregnant females per group, it could be a very useful methodology to find diseases and/or to ensure a high probability that a chemical is safe.

Until this is done, though, there is no valid science to assure us that any of the chemicals in our food, body care or household products are safe. Neither the pesticide and medical industries nor the government regulators have any evidence to state that known nerve toxins such as glyphosate, mercury, aluminum, organophosphates, pyrethroids and neonicotinoids are not contributing to this epidemic.

The peer-reviewed scientific papers by Samsel and Seneff have extensively reviewed the published medical and scientific literature on glyphosate. Their research papers show how glyphosate is responsible for disrupting multiple metabolic and other biochemical pathways in animals. They show how these disruptions are linked to numerous diseases such as autism, cancers and celiac disease.

Samsel and Seneff’s research has been rebutted by the pesticide industry, government regulators and some research scientists, who state that glyphosate is not toxic enough, or that the amounts are too low, to cause these multiple diseases. However, it is statistically impossible for the current best practice testing guidelines to find diseases that occur in less than 5,000 people per 100,000.

Samsel and Seneff have presented a huge amount of peer-reviewed scientific evidence about the harm that glyphosate causes, whereas the detractors of their studies do not have any evidence of safety.

The fact is that studies using OECD or similar guidelines that do not find cancer, autism or any other diseases cannot say that a chemical does not cause these diseases. The absence of a disease in these tests does not mean that it does not cause the disease and is safe. The opposite is true. It means there is no evidence that the chemical is safe.

The Glyphosate Debate

The decision by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the verdict in the Dewayne Johnson court case agreed that glyphosate is linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The IARC paper showed how glyphosate caused cancer in test animals. The manufacturer states that it does not cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma or any other cancer.

The published studies on glyphosate (and other pesticides), even if they used OECD or similar guidelines, use numbers of animals that are too small to detect any of the current cancers, and therefore there is no basis to say that it does not cause cancer. It is statistically impossible to use a testing methodology that can only detect cancers to a minimum level of 1,000 cancers per 100,000 people for common cancers like lung cancer that occur at rates of 57.5 people per 100,000, not to mention liver cancer, which affects 8.3 per 100,000.

As an example, non-Hodgkin lymphoma affects 18.4 people per 100,000 in America. To positively determine that glyphosate does not cause this cancer, an experiment would need a control of 100,000 rats, along with three dose groups of 100,000 rats each — 400,000 rats total. If this experiment showed no sign of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, then it would be statistically probable that it did not contribute to the 18.4 people per 100,000 with the disease. There is no published evidence that a study of this size has ever been done on a pesticide.

The fact is that the current testing protocols can only tell us if a pesticide causes a disease. It cannot tell us if a pesticide is safe. Finding no evidence that a pesticide does not cause cancer, autism or other diseases in a study is not the same as saying that the chemical in question does not cause these diseases.

In my opinion, it is a gross misrepresentation to say that any of the current published toxicology studies can be used to say that any of the thousands of pesticide products used in the world do not cause cancer or other diseases.

The fact is that there is no evidence that pesticides are safe. It is very concerning that when these tests show diseases, that the number of people who could be affected by the chemicals is extraordinarily high.

It is important to remember that the majority of people get their exposure to pesticides from food. Most people, including children, carry a body burden of a cocktail of these toxic chemicals with no scientific evidence that they are safe. However, there is ample evidence that these chemicals are harming our children.

Parents should ensure that they and their children only eat organic and regenerative foods from reliable sources, such as certified organic systems that can demonstrate that toxic pesticides such as glyphosate have not been used.

For much more on this important topic, pick up a copy of Poisoning Our Children: The Parent’s Guide to the Myths of Safe Pesticides, available from the Acres U.S.A. bookstore or call 800-355-5313.

André Leu is the author of The Myths of Safe Pesticides and Poisoning Our Children. He previously served as president of IFOAM — Organics International and is currently the international director of Regeneration International. This article appeared in the March 2019 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Opinion: Making the Case for Organic Certification (Terrance Layhew)

By Terrance Layhew

“Are you Certified Organic?”

If you’ve sold anything at a farmers’ market, odds are someone has asked you this. Perhaps you are Certified Organic and can reply, “Yes we are. Do you see the large green seal on our marketing material?” If you aren’t certified, perhaps you’ve replied with an explanation as to why you are not certified but still raise your produce without pesticides or your livestock without antibiotics or growth hormones.

Organic vegetables

For many customers this is sufficient — they see you every week and trust you have a quality product. However, it’s naive to believe that certifications don’t have use for farmers.

Most customers, and some farmers, would be surprised to learn how many different options there are for certification out there. You can become Humane Certified for livestock, Good Agricultural Practices Certified for vegetables, Naturally Raised Certified, etc. There are dozens of different certifications your farm may be eligible for if it’s what you are interested in.

There are some who ask, “Why bother with Certifications? It’s nothing but marketing.”

Yes, that’s why you want it.

The Purpose of Certifications

Yes, certification in anything is for marketing purposes. It is a handy label you can add to your farm to increase the likelihood that people will purchase your products. Given the options between two equally nice and well-managed farms, people will buy from the farm that is more aligned with their values with proven verification.

The kind of certification you receive verifies to the customer that you have been proven to hold the same values they care about.

If you’re a market gardener at a farmer’s market without certifications, you may farm just as well as the Certified Organic farmer set up in the booth next to you. However, there’s nothing beyond your word and relationship with the customer to prove it to them.

The Lazy Mind

The fact is, our brains are designed to conserve energy; the more energy required for a customer to relate to your product or operation, the less likely they are to extend the effort.

Certifications like Certified Naturally Grown, Certified Organic, GAP, Humane, etc., are fairly self-explanatory in the labels themselves, allowing the customer to see the icon/seal of the organization and know that much more about your operation without having to think about it.

It’s not a matter of enabling people to overlook due diligence, but easing them into a relationship with you and your farm. Selling customers on your farm is not hawking snake oil on the roadside – you should be genuinely trying to help customers and to serve their needs as efficiently as possible.

A good friend of mine grew from a backyard urban gardener to having his own Certified Organic Market garden in the country. He made the leap to certification when his customers asked for it. There was a little more work involved with the papers and documentation, but he was already farming organically. It’s an example of how the relationship with the customers you have, and the values of the customers you wish to attract, should determine what kind of certification you pursue.

Now that he is certified, as his business has transitioned from CSA and farmers’ markets to restaurants, it has opened up more opportunities and options to differentiate himself from the competition. Depending on your context and competition, this may be needed to gain access to that farmers’ market that already has several vegetable CSAs.

A certification – Organic, GAP, Humane or otherwise – allows you to take advantage of how and why influence works.


Robert Caldini published Influence in 1984. This book outlines the principles of why people will generally purchase or be persuaded by one person over another. The various steps are interesting and worth researching, but the two relevant to certifications are these:

  • Social Proof
  • Authority

Social Proof

There were times growing up where you found yourself in a situation that you didn’t know how to navigate: the first time you had to do something you weren’t all too confident in, like going to the public bathroom without a parent. The solution was to look at see what others were doing — how did they navigate that same situation?

If you are a new market garden farmer, and unsure what are the best hand tools to use on your operation, you would probably survey what other market gardeners with similar contexts use.

In moments of uncertainty, we typically look for Social Proof — validation of an idea or process by other people similar to ourselves.

Certifications can serve as a form of social proof. They display to potential customers that many other people have agreed that the product is valuable and meets the standards you are looking for. It is presumed that because of the certification, others have also purchased from you and agree that you are an acceptable possibility.

There’s a collective vote cast by consumers every time they purchase a bundle of Certified Organic Carrots, or a dozen Humane Certified Eggs. As those dollars collect, they build the perceived integrity and acceptance of the label in the minds of the average consumer.

It also will carry the integrity of other farmers with similar labels. If a customer moves to a new location and is looking for a CSA to join similar to the one she left, she’ll start by looking for farmers and CSAs with the same certifications she left behind.


Authority is when someone in a recognized position of power or influence gives their A-OK, or check mark to a product, person, organization or idea.

Like social proof, it is a way of finding a foothold in uncertainty, but in this case relying on the word of a trusted expert or figure of respect for validation.

You don’t know if you want to read that book sitting on the bookstore shelf or not, but there’s a sticker saying Oprah’s Book Club loved it. If you believe in the power and authority of Oprah it would likely sway you toward buying the book you were unsure of.

If you were to purchase a BSC tractor after listening to Chris Blanchard recommend it on the Farmer to Farmer Podcast, that would be an example of Authority at play. Or if you were to use a particular compost because it is also used by J. M. Fortier on his operation.

Beyond books or cereal boxes, certifications present a form of authority to customers. Specifically the USDA Organic Seal represents the authority of the USDA and the United States government itself lending a form of approval to the farmer.

We ultimately place faith in labels because we expect some kind of authority behind them to enforce the standards in place. Without authority, without the muscle to make the meaning of the certification matter it is worthless, both to the farmer and consumer.

Trust But Verify

It’s easy to forget how much faith a customer puts in a farmer when they make the first transaction; they are trying to decide if they can trust the health and wellbeing of their diets to you and your production techniques.

President Ronald Reagan was credited with saying, “Trust but verify.” In many ways that’s how the organic and sustainable community is set up. An Organic Label, GAP Label, or Humane Label, these all start off on a level of trust.

This level of trust can exist between a customer and farmer without a certification, but the certification gives an additional level of verification. With trained reviewers auditing the farmer and farm to see that they follow through on what they said they would do.

Should you or shouldn’t you be certified is a question answered based on your context, the needs of your farm and the market you are serving. The importance is to see the strength and influence that these labels have in the minds of your customers. Recognizing that they aren’t the tools of the imperial agribusinesses crushing the small producer, they are impartial methods of sharing your values to the customer and making it easier for them to buy from you without a second thought.

About the Author

Terrance Layhew is a GAP Auditor, Organic Inspector and Consultant. He writes online at The Intellectual Agrarian (link: https://intellectualagrarian.com) and is the host of the Intellectual Agrarian Podcast.

Poisoning Our Children: Pesticide Residues

By André Leu

In December 2014, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sent out a news release to all the media outlets in the country about the results of its 2013 Pesticide Data Program (PDP). The headline: “Report confirms that U.S. food does not pose a safety concern based on pesticide residues.”

Poisoning our children book

The news release contained the following statement from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): “The newest data from the PDP confirm that pesticide residues in food do not pose a safety concern for Americans. EPA remains committed to a rigorous, science-based, and transparent regulatory program for pesticides that continues to protect people’s health and the environment.” So according to the EPA and the USDA, parents should have no concerns because the pesticides in food are safe.

Hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers by scientists and researchers challenge this assertion. So, let’s look at the science to understand why experts have serious concerns about the safety of pesticides.

What Gets Tested?

One of the greatest pesticide myths is that all agricultural poisons are scientifically tested to ensure that they are used safely. According to the United States President’s Cancer Panel (USPCP), this is simply not the case: “Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety.”

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of chemicals used worldwide have not been subjected to testing. Given that, according to the USPCP, the majority of cancers are caused by environmental exposures, especially exposure to chemicals, this oversight shows a serious level of neglect by regulatory authorities.

The USPCP 2010 report was written by eminent scientists and medical specialists in this field, and it clearly states that environmental toxins, including pesticides, are the main causes of cancers. Published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Cancer Institute, the report discusses many critical issues of chemical regulation.

Nearly 1,400 pesticides have been registered (i.e., approved) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for agricultural and non-agricultural use. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to brain/central nervous system (CNS), breast, colon, lung, ovarian (female spouses), pancreatic, kidney, testicular, and stomach cancers, as well as Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma. Pesticide-exposed farmers, pesticide applicators, crop duster pilots, and manufacturers also have been found to have elevated rates of prostate cancer, melanoma, other skin cancers, and cancer of the lip.

Approximately forty chemicals classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known, probable, or possible human carcinogens are used in EPA-registered pesticides now on the market.

Pesticides have been subjected to more testing than most chemicals. Many leading scientists regard these tests to be inadequate for determining whether pesticide residues are safe or harmful to humans, though. The USPCP report states, “Some scientists maintain that current toxicity testing and exposure limit-setting methods fail to accurately represent the nature of human exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.”

There are several key areas in which many experts and scientists believe testing has not sufficiently established that the current use of pesticides and other chemicals is safe.

Pesticide Residues: Chemical Cocktails in Food & Water

Regulatory authorities approve multiple pesticides for a crop on the basis that all of them can be used in normal production. Consequently, a mixture of several different toxic chemical products is applied during the normal course of agricultural production for most foods, including combinations of herbicide products, insecticide products, fungicide products, and synthetic fertilizer compounds. A substantial percentage of foods thus have a cocktail of small amounts of these toxic chemicals that we absorb through food, drink, dust, and the air.

According to the USPCP, “Only 23.1 percent of [food] samples had zero pesticide residues detected, 29.5 percent had one residue, and the remainder had two or more.” This means that about half the foods in the United States contain a mixture of chemical residues. Pesticide residue surveys in most other countries show similar results. Because people consume a variety of foods, with around 77 percent containing residues of different types of agricultural chemicals, most people’s normal dietary habits include consuming a chemical concoction of which they are unaware.

A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found a cocktail of toxic chemicals in the blood and urine of most Americans that were tested. In 2009, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found up to 232 chemicals in the placental cord blood of newborns in the United States. Many of these pollutants have been linked to serious health risks such as cancer and can persist for decades in the environment.

Regulatory authorities assume that because each of the active ingredients in individual commercial products is below the acceptable daily intake (ADI), the cocktail is thus also safe. They do not test these combinations of chemicals — the chemical cocktails that are ingested daily by billions of people — to ensure that they are safe. The emerging body of evidence demonstrates that many chemical cocktails can act synergistically, meaning that instead of one plus one equaling two, the joint action can exert a toxic, damaging effect that’s three, four, five, or even several hundred times higher than the sum of the two effects when the chemicals act separately.

This is an excerpt from André Leu’s 2018 book, Poisoning Our Children.

André Leu is a founding member and director of Regeneration International. He served as president of IFOAM Organics International from 2011 to 2017. He is the author of the award-winning book, The Myths of Safe Pesticides.

Editor’s Note: References to specific reports and bibliographic information has been withheld in this article. They are sourced in the book.

Agricultural Lessons from the Deer

By Peter J. Kelly

One thing I know very well and yet continue to study is the whitetail deer. Although cursed by crop farmers, landscapers, gardeners and others I sympathize with, deer provide many valuable lessons and perhaps even models for the ecological farmer.

Under normal circumstances, deer do not “mow” or even really graze; they browse, seldom making obvious changes to their “pasture” or killing the plants. For example, when deer eat the tops off hardwood saplings, they leave one leaf — enough for the tree to re-grow its top. In my experience, they often come back and eat it again.

Certainly, deer’s expensive tastes can be a problem for your trees if the deer are overpopulated. However, if the population is healthy and in check, they use this technique with natural forage, leaving enough so that what they ate may grow back.

It is easy to see how we can apply this principle, as evidenced by rotational grazing. We let our livestock graze a certain amount such that the pasture will regenerate lush, nutritious herbage, and then move the animals to a different area. Wild animals are constantly on the move, and we are imitating this.

Deer provide many valuable lessons and perhaps even models for the ecological farmer.

The places that deer frequent also pose as models for agricultural endeavors. Most who know something about whitetails know that they are considered an “edge animal.” They frequent edges between field and forest, field and brush, different kinds of forest — any area of change in the vegetation or topography of an area.

The places that excite this deer hunter are the tucked-away places where the woods open up to fewer trees with grasses filling the space beneath. Often these areas — the edges particularly — provide everything that a whitetail (or any other animal) needs and wants. Do they sound familiar? With today’s attention to silvopasture, I thought so.

Deer Diet

What most amazes those I speak to on this subject is the sheer amount of food that deer eat. An adult deer consumes at least of seven pounds of food per day. According to outdoor writer and photographer Charles Alsheimer, during more bountiful times of the year, an adult deer may eat between 10 and 15 pounds of diverse browse every day. Consider the size of your local deer population. That is a lot of food; and here is the point: it’s out there!

Keep in mind, we are talking about animals that weigh about as much as we do. This is a lesson for all permaculturists, homesteaders, gardeners, graziers and wildlife biologists: a vast amount of food and food-growing potential in our soils is out there! It is being consumed, much from land deemed worthless, to build a thriving species of 120 to 250-pound animals.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson we can learn from deer is their ability to know where to find exactly what they need. In this way, deer are perhaps smarter about their groceries than are many people. They know exactly where to find the plants and the soils that give them what they need. Take calcium for example: in the spring and summer it is imperative for healthy fawn and antler development. If your soil has the best and most accessible calcium source in the area, your land will become a deer magnet.

Deer also know what produce to avoid. It has been shown that given the choice, deer will walk past genetically modified corn to feed on minimally sprayed heirloom varieties. If you are farming wisely, you are calling deer to your farm.

A solution for keeping deer away from healthy food I have not. The issue that I find is that deer eat a large amount of GMO corn and beans, although it is neither their choice nor healthy for them any more than it is for any other living being. This leads me to draw two conclusions. First, in any ecosystem with significant acreage devoted to GMO corn, the deer are going to eat it. Second, and I know this to be the problem in my upstate western New York, the deer are overpopulated and thereby forced to eat it.

If the food systems and ecosystems of the United States are to be changed for the better, the wildlife must be considered. I propose that there is a tremendous amount of work to be done on this subject. Most hunters are extremely concerned about where their food comes from. Yet, at the same time, many people still use Roundup and other spray materials, and plant corn and soybeans for the deer.

It is well-known that ruminants are not designed to digest corn, and soybeans wreck the endocrine systems of plants and animals alike. We need to do the research that will show the detrimental effects of these practices upon deer and other wildlife, especially those being consumed by humans.

It is my firm belief that better and more effective deer food plots can and will be made by focusing on soil fertility (especially mineral concentration) and on heirloom plant varieties. By observing the deer, we will discover endless information to apply in managing both whitetail deer herds and in raising livestock ecologically.

Peter J. Kelly is a high school senior and soon-to-be college student from Steuben County, New York. He will be studying plant sciences and sustainable agriculture, in hopes of becoming a farmer.

Impossible Burger: Not All It’s Cooked Up To Be

By Mike Snow

The Impossible Burger sizzles like a burger, bleeds like a burger and tastes like a burger (well, almost). But other than that, this new burger barn burner has nothing to do with meat

Essentially, it’s a burger knockoff, fashioned from natural and plant-based ingredients that, when blended and manipulated, mimic an actual burger’s meatiness, right down to the blood. The Impossible launched after food manufacturers began tapping into marketing data showing that former meat eaters long for a vegetarian replica that closely resembles the real deal.

That led to development of the Beast Burger, the Superiority Burger and, more recently, the Impossible Burger, which like its predecessors approximates the taste of a beef burger but sports an all-plant ingredient list that includes textured wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein and soy protein. The Impossible is similar to other burger facsimiles but differs by one key ingredient: leghemoglobin (soy).

Leghem … who? That would be a plant containing “heme” — the ingredient closely related to myoglobin that enables the Impossible Burger to “bleed” and gives it its distinctively decadent touch. Promoters insist this sets it apart. Five years in the making, few would argue that the new burger comes closer to tasting like the bonafide article than its rivals.

But there’s a catch, and it could be big: rather than extracting the leghemoglobin that’s essential to Impossible Burgers directly from soy plants, the company genetically engineers it in yeast cells. Leghemoglobin doesn’t qualify as a genetically modified organism (GMO). It’s not really an organism, period, but a protein manufactured by genetically modified yeast cells.

At first, the ecological benefits of the new burger sparked keen interest among environmentalists, who blame our cow-loving culture as primarily responsible for climate change. This claim even won over hard-core meat eaters, particularly after pushers of the Impossible publicly disowned the controversial marketing tactics used by its predecessor, Monsanto. But Impossible’s own lack of transparency since then has blunted this message and undercut the new burger’s chances of gaining lasting market loyalty.

While the company claims that a third-party team of top researchers pronounced the burger safe and soy leghemoglobin itself “super safe,” it has neglected to test the new ingredient for possible side effects. Nor has it mentioned that soy leghemoglobin has failed to satisfy the FDA, which has concerns about transparency. Instead of completing studies and taking other measures to calm the agency’s concerns and sate public hunger for transparency, it simply rushed the untested burger onto the market, even lashing out at Bloomberg News for criticizing its failure to test the make-believe meat — a tactic straight out of Monsanto’s playbook.

Impossible chief communications officer Rachel Konrad labeled critics of the burger as “anti-science fundamentalists.” She further tried to “set the record straight” by pointing to support from various industry front groups, including the American Council on Science and Health, which is funded by the junk food, tobacco and GMO industries and led by Dr. Gilbert Ross, who spent four years in prison for Medicare fraud.

Also backing the burger is industry apologist Mark Lynas, who has made something of a mini-career in recent years trashing independent scientists for voicing their concerns about the GMO industry and its products. His writings typically link to columns by Ted Nordhaus, who sits on the board of the Genetic Literacy Project’s parent organization, a chemical industry propaganda arm that attacks cancer scientists who are at odds with Monsanto/Bayer’s efforts to conceal the truth behind Roundup weed killer. It is further noteworthy that both Lynas and Nordhaus are environmentalists, not microbiologists.

Another red flag arose on the novel burger after it was revealed that food researchers Joseph Borzelleca, Michael Pariza and Steve Taylor wrote the expert panel report submitted by Impossible Foods to the FDA. The food industry repeatedly relies on this same trio of hired guns to obtain GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status.

Borzelleca alone has served on 41 percent of the 379 panels convened in the past 17 years to review the safety of new food ingredients. According to the Center for Public Integrity, GRAS system critics say Borzelleca’s entrenched role typifies conflicts of interests that riddle the system. “If scientists depend on the food industry for income, they may be less likely to contest the safety of ingredients that companies hope to market,” critics say.

Instead of charting a new course that will breed public trust, Impossible has simply followed in the footsteps of the pesticide and GMO producers who preceded them, who rushed new products to market without transparency or comprehensive reviews, shouting down anyone who raised legitimate questions while ignoring public demands about food safety.

Despite growing concerns and calls for safety tests, Ross, Lynas, Nordhaus & Co. persist in claiming that the Impossible’s “heme” is safe. On the company’s website, Konrad maintains that “An objective, third-party team of the nation’s top food researchers in 2014 vouched for the new burger’s safety. The panel made this conclusion in 2014, well before we began selling the Impossible Burger on the market in 2016.”

But she left out key facts, including the Food and Drug Administration’s ongoing concerns that the studies relied on in Impossible’s GRAS notification were not enough to determine safety. Impossible’s rush to market on the tails of its tainted predecessors is incurring the distrust and wrath of growing numbers of consumers. Despite growing concerns, the Impossible Burger still ranks as a roaring success, even gaining prominence at acclaimed restaurants such as New York’s Momofuku Nishi and Houston’s Underbelly, raking in more than $250 million since debuting.

But reviews at the FDA remain notably lackluster. The agency continues to express reservations about soy leghemoglobin, which, though found in nature on the roots of soybean plants, is produced in a lab, hasn’t previously been consumed by humans and could be an allergen.

With every criticism, the company simply pushes back with claims that after “extensive testing” soy leghemoglobin has passed muster with two panels of food safety and allergy experts and “has a very low potential for allergenicity.”

The FDA and other critics remain skeptical, though. They have recently been joined by Friends of the Earth, which advocates pulling the Impossible Burger from store shelves until the agency can establish whether it is safe.

Food companies do not need FDA approval before they can sell their products. They also are not obligated to report their finding to the agency, adding to concerns about its ability to meaningfully police food safety. Companies can hire consultants to run tests on new ingredients, and they have no obligation to inform the agency of their findings, a process known as self-affirmation.

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the February 2019 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

About the Author

Mike Snow has worked as a journalist in Asia, Africa, South America and Washington, D.C., reporting about international and domestic politics, health, travel and agriculture.

Acres U.S.A. magazine is the national journal of sustainable agriculture, standing virtually alone with a real track record — over 45 years of continuous publication. Each issue is packed full of information eco-consultants regularly charge top dollar for. You’ll be kept up-to-date on all of the news that affects agriculture — regulations, discoveries, research updates, organic certification issues, and more.

André Leu on Monsanto/Bayer Trial: Glyphosate Safety in Question

By André Leu

The recent verdict awarding Dewayne Johnson $289 million, because a jury determined that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer, will open the floodgates for thousands of more people suing the manufacturer, Monsanto/Bayer.

André Leu

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) gave glyphosate the second-highest classification for cancer: 2A, a probable human carcinogen, in 2015. This means that cancer has been found in test animals, with limited evidence in humans. The evidence in humans was a strong association with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Despite this, the manufacturer continues to state that its studies and the reviews by regulators show that glyphosate does not cause cancer. The manufacturer and regulators, like the U.S. EPA, will not produce these safety studies, to be reviewed by independent scientists and other stakeholders, as they are considered commercial in confidence.

The first issue here is if they have the evidence that glyphosate does not cause cancer, why don’t they publicly release it, rather than hiding it?


The Faux Faith of Modern Science

Think very carefully the next time your physician suggests new prescription drugs or offers you a bit of medical advice.

“Science is part and parcel humility. Scientists do not seek to impose their needs and wants on Nature, but instead humbly interrogate Nature and take seriously what they find. We are aware that revered scientists have been wrong. We understand human imperfection. We insist on independent and — to the extent possible — quantitative verification of proposed tenets of belief.” — Carl Sagan, from The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

Sagan would agree that modern science has taken a terrible turn. Corporate influence, conflicts of interest, ego and greed have corrupted the science of science if you will. The results are bad scientific practices, a dearth of independent research, misinformation and studies designed to produce favorable results — and not for the health of the individual.

Big Pharma is arguably more concerned with competition than consumer protection. (more…)

Top 10 Reasons to Raise & Eat Grass-Fed Meat

By Abbey & Spencer Smith

Diana Rodgers lives on a working organic farm west of Boston, Massachusetts. Clark Farm raises lamb, goat, pastured pork, eggs, vegetables and berries. The animals look serene in the golden green pastures. They are healthy and relaxed. They are part of the landscape, shaping and impacting the grass and forest lands of the farm. Not only are they important to the health of the ecosystem, red meat from these animals is a true superfood — meaning that per calorie, there is a high level of nutrients in the food.

However, most people believe the healthiest product on Clark Farm must come from the vegetable patch. This misperception and false portrayal of red meat led Diana Rodgers, R.D., a real food registered dietitian to create the film Kale vs. Cow.

“I’ve been feeling increasingly frustrated with the wrongful vilification of red meat from a health and environmental perspective. There don’t seem to be any films that advocate for regenerative agriculture that also admit that red meat is actually a healthy food to eat,” said Rodgers.

Realizing that Rodgers is right about the public perception of raising and eating red meat, we reflected on the reasons we choose to do both. We delve into the top 10 reasons cattle, sheep and other livestock are part of healthy living for humans and the ecosystem.

cows in pasture
Healthy cattle grazing healthy pastures produce healthy beef that provides benefits to the soil, economy and people’s overall health.

It isn’t easy to get a rosy picture of meat production through common research channels like Google, magazines and blogs. The meat most vilified in the United States is beef. Is this because it is the most consumed red meat in the United States? According to the USDA, the per capita consumption of beef is projected to be 57.9 pounds in 2018.

Not all meat is created equal. Livestock are a tool that can improve or degrade ecosystem function depending on how they are managed. Beef that came from cattle properly managed across grassland is a completely different product from conventionally produced beef.

Imagine the impact on the environment if even half of those almost 58 pounds of beef per person consumed this year came from cattle working to sequester carbon and enhance ecosystem function. Let’s explore further through the top 10 reasons we’ve found to include healthy red meat in your farm plan and diet.

1. Put your cattle (sheep or goats) to work: How livestock can be used as a tool to improve the land.

All of our landscapes evolved with the pressure of grazing animals on the land. Through this evolution, symbiosis between large graziers, plants and soil developed. When properly managed, livestock are moved in a thoughtful way to stimulate these symbiotic relationships and abundance occurs. Spencer Smith explains: When plants grow leaves they are maximizing their opportunity to catch the sun’s energy. As photosynthesis happens, the plants are exuding some of the precious sugars they create into the soil. This process is referred to as root exudation. These exudates feed the soil biology, which in turn mineralize nutrients that are tied up in the soil particles.

In essence the soil biology has the power to unlock nutrients from rock and provide them to the plant. Let’s call this symbiotic relationship number one: the plants feed root exudates to the soil life, and the soil life feeds minerals to the plants.

Livestock prepare the soil by breaking the soil crust that inhibits germination and clear old foliage from the plants so new growth can occur. As they graze, they trigger the plants to push more root exudates into the soil. This maximizes soil biology and potential for nutrient uptake by the plants. This is merely scratching the surface of how properly managed livestock improve soil and plants.

One of the most exciting benefits to properly managed livestock on the ground is their role in maximizing the mineral cycle by laying down plant litter on the soil surface. This litter composts in place and allows for efficient cycling of nutrients in the root zone of plants. As livestock chip the soil crust and lay down this important litter they also add a lot of dung and urine, which provides nutrients like nitrogen to the ground. This nitrogen stimulates more plant growth, while the dung adds new biology to the soil surface and partially decomposed plant material.

This is great fertilizer for future plants in the area. This entire process increases the soil’s ability to infiltrate water and hold moisture for future crops, making our landscapes more resilient to drought.

2. Grass-fed animals create a lot of healthy food.

Diana Rodgers, in an article on SustainableDish.com, reports, “One cow produces an average of 490 pounds of edible beef. If you were to purchase one cow (490 pounds) for your freezer and eat it over the course of a year, that would give you 1.3 pounds of meat per day. When you’re looking to cause ‘least harm,’ one cow is a much more efficient life to lose than the number of chickens it would take to equal 490 pounds.”

Many people balk at the price of grass-fed beef compared to conventional beef, but buying in bulk and cooking real food can be surprisingly economical. In our household last year we committed to staying out of supermarkets and other places with too many opportunities for spontaneous purchases and hyper-palatable food.

A Surprise Valley, California, shared meal among friends is a celebration of nutrient-dense food, including tri-tip and meatballs.

We purchase meat in bulk (buying halves and wholes and trading with neighbors), buy vegetables from our local food hub, farmers’ market, our own garden and a local food co-op (also in bulk) and get the rest of our goods through a local Azure Standard food co-op. The result: we cut our monthly grocery bill in half, felt healthier and generated less packaging waste. Rodgers’ research confirmed our personal experiment. Eating real food is actually cheaper.

“If you compare … grass-fed beef to a common junk food item like a Snickers bar, you might be surprised to learn that the organic, grass-fed beef is $0.17 cheaper by weight than a snickers bar,” Rodgers wrote on SustainableDish.com.

3. Whole-animal eating is healthier and cheaper than eating steaks all the time.

If you take Rodgers’ advice and purchase (or raise) your own red meat animal, you have the opportunity to eat the most nutritious food available. According to Your Personal Paleo Code by Chris Kresser, liver is the most nutrient-dense food available. He recommends eating one to two 3-ounce servings of liver per week.

We should also be eating homemade bone broth and tougher cuts like stews made from shanks, oxtails, brisket and chuck roast. Why? These cuts provide key nutrients not found in other dietary sources that work synergistically with the nutrients found in muscle meats, according to Your Personal Paleo Code.

My daughter started drinking bone broth when she was 2 and has always loved it. Our weekly routine is to make a crockpot of beef or chicken bone broth. We add it to soups, stews, sauces or sip it hot in the morning. It is harder to get my family to eat liver. I developed a taste for it over time and now really enjoy it. It is a rich food and needs to be prepared carefully, but it can be so tasty.

Sliced very thin and fried with spices, onions and bacon, or made into a pate with coconut oil, are great ways to incorporate liver into your weekly meal plan. Kresser also recommends adding small amounts to ground-beef dishes or cutting it into tiny chunks, freezing and then swallowing a whole chunk each day as if it were a multivitamin pill.

4. Grow strong kids (and grown-ups).

Is grass-fed meat healthier for you? Researchers from Newcastle University in England concluded that meat and fat from animals who lived their whole lives on pasture was healthier than grain-fed livestock, according to an Eating Well magazine article.

Grass-fed meats are higher in omega-3 fats which boost brain, heart and immune function. In reviewing many studies, Chris Kresser found that the fat ratios in pasture-raised beef are in line with the ratios found in our ancestral diets. Meat and fat from pastured animals is also high in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has anti-cancer properties. In fact, pasture-raised products are the richest source of CLA, according to Your Personal Paleo Code.

Continuing with the nutrition facts in Your Personal Paleo Code, Kresser writes that grass-fed beef has seven times more beta-carotene, twice as much Vitamin B2, three times as much B1 and 30 percent more calcium than grain-fed beef.

A close friend of ours, who operates a successful chiropractic practice in the San Jose, California, area and follows a paleo lifestyle, recently started her infant son on solid food. While supermarket store aisles are filled with powdery rice cereal in the baby food section, our friend started her son on solid foods with lamb, then egg yolks.

Guided by the book Super Nutrition for Babies, by Katherine Erlich, M.D. and Kelly Genzlinger, C.M.C., C.M.T.A., young Owen is starting out life eating the most nutrient-dense and easily digestible foods available. What a wonderful way to raise a healthy, happy human.

5. Grow more nutrient-dense crops.

There are many peer-reviewed studies that investigate the decrease in food quality during the last 40 to 50 years. A recent review of these studies published in Scientific American , shows how vegetable crops in the United States have dropped by up to 40 percent in nutrient density.

On most of our cropland, livestock have been removed. This affects the multitude of symbiotic relationships that we summarized in the first point of this article. When we remove livestock from any agricultural system we lose the opportunity for plants to stimulate the soil and the soil to mineralize nutrients that the plants would not otherwise access. No graziers on land means less plant exudation. This starves out soil biology.

With a simplified, reduced soil life community, less nutrients are made available to plants, and this leads to fruits and veggies that lack taste and nutrition.

6. Grass-fed meat as an income stream.

Even though less than 1 percent of the 30 million cattle brought to market each year are grass-fed, according to Eating Well magazine, grass-fed beef is a growing sector of the beef market. Consumers want access to a better food system, and they are aware of the positive benefits of local grass-fed beef to their health, rural economies and the environment.

When grass-fed beef (or lamb, goat, etc.) is properly produced, it tastes amazing. This demand for flavorful grass-finished meat is increasing the income of many farms and ranches across the country. This stimulates rural economies and revitalizes communities that no longer depend on the volatile commodity market.

Consider the typical price of organic ground grass-fed beef at $8.99 per pound compared to $4.99 to $6.99 per pound for commodity ground beef. That is a lot of profit that makes its way back to the farm, especially when producers direct market to their consumers.

An indicator of this increase in direct marketing grass-fed beef may be the creation of online products like GrazeCart. This is an online platform for farms and direct marketers, produced by Seven Sons Farms in Indiana. The product is designed specifically for pastured protein products. About 130 farms now use the platform, said Blaine Hitzfield of Seven Sons Farms.

7. Bring the best food to the party: Grass-fed meat doesn’t have to taste “gamey.”

Grass-finished beef can be marbled and delicious when producers graze healthy pastures.

You may hear producers of grass-fed beef tell their less-than-happy customer, “you must not have cooked it correctly.” We feel that this hurts the market. If we as producers sell a product that is fat and finished on forages, the consumers should be able to cook it anyway they like. The problem is that most grass-fed beef is taken to market severely underfinished, or it is finished on the wrong types of forages. Spencer Smith explains: When you finish cattle in the feedlot, or in the field, on high-energy feeds you will end up with a product that is fat and delicious. However, if you finish cattle on lush, high protein forages, you will get an underfinished product lacking in fat and flavor.

Lots of producers make the mistake of trying to finish their cattle on the lushest green grass on the ranch, thinking that this feed source will add to and benefit flavor. In fact they are doing just the opposite. I have gotten a lot of blowback from the grass-fed community for saying publicly that 80 percent of the grass-finished beef on the market isn’t worth eating and 20 percent is the best beef you have ever tasted. I say this because we in the grass-finished world are ignoring what the grain finishers know in spades. Finishing cattle on high-energy (carbohydrate) diets, rather than high-protein rations, makes cattle fat and ready for processing.

When grass-finished operations focus on feeding their cattle high-protein lush forages during their finishing months, the cattle simply never put on enough fat, frame yes, yield sure, but not the fat that good beef requires to finish. What we should be doing is timing the finishing graze on grass that is starting to increase energy (carbs) relative to protein. This looks like grasses that are beginning to send up their reproductive structures. Being aware of the life cycle state the plant is in when grazed by finishing animals will help you produce meat products that are juicy and delicious.

8. Save the world: Properly managed grazing benefits carbon drawdown.

When we plan our grazing in a way that maximizes plant performance and forage production, we also sequester large amounts of atmospheric carbon. This goes back to number one in this article. While plants remain in their productive photosynthetic state, they exude plant sugars to feed the soil. Photosynthesis is carbon sequestration.

Photosynthesis happens when plants take in carbon dioxide from the air and transform it, with solar energy and water, to make carbohydrates. These sugars are then used as plant fuel to grow additional leaves, roots, stems and seeds (all made of carbon that was once in the air).

As these plants grow they share some sugar with soil biology in the form of root exudation. This process is called the liquid carbon pathways. The carbon, or sugar, fed to the soil biology then transforms the carbon to humus. Additional ways that plants sequester carbon are through decomposition pathways. This is when animals trample, graze or stress plants to make them shed roots or knock leaves to the ground where decomposing soil life can make them their breakfast.

To say that grass-fed beef (or lamb or goat, etc.) sequesters carbon and leave it at that may be a stretch. If the livestock are not managed in a way that stimulates the soil and allows the plants to flourish, we will see the opposite effect — desertification and increased bare land — resulting in more carbon released into the atmosphere.

9. Keep more critters around: Properly managed grazing improves biodiversity.

Grass-fed livestock operations hold some of the most diverse biological communities in agriculture. Livestock producers have the opportunity to increase the biodiversity of their properties and enhance the habitat for millions of other critters.

We can plan our livestock moves to ensure habitat is created for ground-nesting birds, for example. We can utilize pastures in a manner that promotes vegetation types for wildlife, as well as our livestock. As we increase our understanding of how the grassland biome functions, we can graze livestock in a way that maximizes the germination of new species of grasses and forbs and improve the biodiversity in our fields.

10. Properly managed livestock improve the water-holding capacity of soil.

When we talk about water in the Western United States, usually we discuss it in terms of scarcity or whose fault it is that we are short of it. Mark Twain famously said, “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over,” and this is probably the most accurate statement about how Western communities see this valuable resource. We wish he had said that “Water is for managing,” as fewer problems would arise in our Western states if people took charge and called for better resource management.

Healthy pastures hold water — a lot of water. This water has the opportunity to infiltrate the soil and fill aquifers. As the groundwater fills, springs redevelop and watersheds improve. These improved watersheds create an abundance of water that flow into rivers and tributaries throughout the year, not just during snowmelt season. This improved water cycle mitigates the drought-flood cycle that Western states chronically experience.

When we remove livestock from pastures in the arid West, we end up with capped, sealed soils that can no longer accept the water that falls from the sky. The result is that water runs off the soil surface and engorges rivers and streams in March. By June, they are bone dry.

If we manage livestock for a healthy water cycle, we will prepare the soil for water infiltration and water holding capacity. As livestock graze pastures they also knock down a lot of plant material to the soil surface, and as we discussed before, this feeds soil biology and improves soil carbon and the mineral cycle. It also protects and insulates the soil — a huge benefit when we acknowledge that protected, insulated soils maintain a cooler temperature in the summer and aid in moisture retention.

When soil temperature is at 70°F, all moisture is plant-available and no water is lost to evaporation. When soil temperature increases to 100°F, nearly all of the water in the soil is lost to evaporation (about 85 percent of soil water is lost).

As we produce grass-fed meat that was properly managed, we also sequester carbon. As we increase our soil organic matter by only 1 percent, we gain 20,000 gallons of water-holding capacity per acre. This is a real game changer in the West certainly, and in all environments.

In recent years, biologists and hydrologists are studying the role of livestock in a healthy water cycle. In the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, a dramatic number of livestock grazing permits have been revoked. Thus many hundreds of miles of mountain grazing land has been overrested, and the Alpine meadows that were maintained by the livestock have disappeared as trees encroached.

These meadows used to function as a sponge in the mountains, trapping and holding water throughout the winter and spring and enhancing water flows throughout the summers. Now California, our home state, has lost many of these meadows and the state can go from record drought to record flood and back in the same year. Luckily, decision-makers are starting to better understand the role of livestock in a healthy environment.

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of Acres U.S.A.

About the Authors

Abbey Smith is a Savory Professional Educator and Spencer Smith is a Savory Field Professional. Savory Global Network hubs provide accredited Holistic Management training and support across the world. Find a hub near you and learn about how to become an accredited Holistic Management professional. Abbey and Spencer Smith manage the Savory Global Network hub serving Northern California and Nevada, called the Jefferson Center for Holistic Management

A Retrospective: A Journey of Seed Saving and Beyond

Alan and Linda Kapuler, Oregon Country Fair, photo by Serena Kapuler.

Conceived in unity and born for the common good, as part of the Back-to-the-Land movement inspired by the consciousness revolution of the 1960s, two Als and a Linda founded Stonebroke Hippie Seeds in a $90-a-month rental house in Jacksonville Oregon in 1975.

We knew little about gardening, less about seed saving and nothing about business. A few years later we changed the name to Peace Seeds. Here is a true story: I was standing by the sink cleaning seeds from a Buttercup Winter squash, putting the internal pulp and seeds into the compost bucket when it occurred to me that three months later I would buy a packet of the same seeds costing the equivalent of an hour’s work in the gladiolus field where I was glad to get $1.92 take home pay.

I realized I could save the very seeds I was tossing out, completing the cycle of saving the seeds from the plants me and my family had grown in our backyard garden. Completing the cycle, from plant to seed to plant, endlessly with thousands of cultivars in most all the food plants of the temperate zone on planet Earth was our dharma for the next 20 years.


Real Health: A Response to What The Health (Opinion column)

By Maryam Henein

Back in March, I attended the premiere of the documentary film What The Health at the Downtown Independent theater in Los Angeles. I found myself in a room full of staunchly righteous vegans, including a guy who was wearing a T-shirt that read Vegan Feminist. The musician Moby, whom I formerly conducted a panel with to honor our prime pollinators and my film Vanishing of the Bees was also there.

cow herd

My aim was to write a positive review and interview Kip Andersen, one of the directors who brought us Cowspiracy. But by the end of the screening, I was utterly appalled by the irresponsibility of this film, not only as a health consultant and public health expert but also as a filmmaker and journalist who spent five years crafting her own documentary. It was sloppy, lacked distinction, was full of disconnects, and was rife with shoddy cherry-picked science. What The Health is not a documentary, rather an ad to promote veganism.

While the film’s basic premise of eating less meat and consuming more plants is a valuable message, considering most people follow the Standard American Diet, I do not support proselytizing veganism by fearmongering and spreading lies

After the film, I couldn’t even discuss my objections with my vegan friend; she literally shushed me because, well, she’s a vegan with an arguable crush on Andersen. Frustrated, I went home, whipped out my iron skillet and slowly cooked me some organic, pastured bacon and eggs, which according to What The Health is equivalent to smoking not one but five ciggies. Absurd! Organic eggs are a great source of vitamin B, choline, fat and protein.

After my many, many years of research and experimentation, I’ve come to realize that diet is highly personalized and individual. I’ve chosen a ketogenic lifestyle based on molecular blood tests. But people who rave about one diet miss a basic understanding: we all metabolize foods and burn energy differently.

Furthermore, after looking into Blue Zones, it is evident that some people can live up to 90 years plus in health subsisting on various diets, including diets that consist of mostly meat. Our bodies are highly adaptable.

“When looking at health, it’s not enough to look at the foods we eat and think that that is what feeds longevity,” adds Jason Prall, the producer of the upcoming eight-part series, The Human Longevity Project. “The quality of the food and what we are doing with it is the real factor.”

I agree. Given that we live in a highly divisive system that enjoys pitting people against one another, I believe that we should focus on the real problem at hand, which is modern agriculture with its monocultures, pesticides, and unsustainable practices.

Be a Chooseatarian — respect another person’s food choices and do not shame or demonize others. We can agree that what is important is to eat clean, organic, non-GMO, unprocessed food, which is ideally local. And if you eat animals, steer clear from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO).

Now let’s dive into the myriad issues with What The Health.

1.A Spoonful Of Sugar Doesn’t Help The Medicine Go Down

The Joaquin Phoenix-exec produced film rampages against meat, even going as far as to say — and this segment is the most disturbing to me — that sugar and high carbs “aren’t that bad,” and that a “meat-based diet” is the culprit behind diabetes.

“Diabetes is not and never was caused by eating a high-carbohydrate diet,” maintains Neal Barnard, MD., founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, who is featured in the film and is basically an animal welfare activist and leading advocate for veganism.

Barnard goes on to say that animal fats go directly to your fat stores and block the cells’ insulin receptors. He adds that insulin is like a key, opening a lock to get glucose into cells and that fats are like chewing gum that gunk up the keyhole so insulin can’t work.

Utter nonsense. My question is: how is this person even a doctor? Diabetes is NOT caused by a “buildup of fat in the blood.” It’s sugar and NOT fat that causes insulin resistance.

Need proof? Consider, for instance, that India is one of the epicenters of the global diabetes mellitus, with an estimated 70 million diabetics by the year 2020. And drum roll please … they do not all eat meat.

Meanwhile, research consistently shows that a ketogenic diet, characterized by high fat and low carbohydrates can reverse diabetes.

Vilifying fats is so 1965. That’s by the way around the time the sugar industry paid scientists to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit. I myself was indoctrinated, and it took me a while to become “fat-adapted” both mentally and physically.

“The “fat makes you fat” rhetoric is ingrained in so many peoples’ minds that they fear fat, even though study after study shows how fat crushes cravings, helps you lose weight, balances your hormones and turns on your brain,” explain health expert and biohacker Davids Asprey. “Fat, especially saturated fat, and cholesterol are the building blocks for nearly every cell in your body and mind. High-carb or sugar-filled diets — even well-meaning plant-based vegan diets — lead to the exact opposite.”

Ignoring or lessening the negative effects of sugar, low-fat, and high carbs is crazy! Sugar is highly addictive and messes with our hormones. And the ironic thing is that saturated fats from happy grass-fed animals is much better for you than processed vegetable oils full of inflammatory omega 6s.

“Sugar is a major cause of inflammation and oxidation damage,” adds Kearney. “It’s a major problem in the Standard American Diet, and it was irresponsible to suggest otherwise.”

While you can call certain foods “complex carbohydrates” to make yourself feel better, at the end of the day, says Lierre Keith, author of the The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, every last molecule of both simple and complex carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars in your intestines and have to be dealt with.

“Diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular, and autoimmune conditions are a product of the modern age,” says Keith. “Please note, there are no corresponding ‘diseases of Hunter-Gatherers.’”

Respected health experts confirm undoubtedly that excessive sugar clearly promotes insulin resistance, with processed fructose being readily converted to body fat. Low-carb, high-fat diets have proven superior for controlling insulin resistance, which is the hallmark of obesity and metabolic dysfunction.

Fat is, in fact, the preferred fuel of the human body — not sugar. Dr. Richard Veech, a metabolic expert, says bluntly that fat burning is “the normal state” of humans.

And while it is possible to be a healthy vegan, consider that many eat grains and beans that are high in inflammatory lectins. Lectins, which are autoimmune-stimulating, are the plant’s natural compounds to ward off pests, fungal and bacterial attack. That is the plant’s natural immune system. When plants are under attack they raise their lectin numbers to fend off the attacking pests. Incidentally, soaking and sprouting grains and legumes can help reduce lectins.

2. Meatheads & Shrinking Noggins

“Choose your poison,” says one of the film’s experts, referring to the various ways that animal foods kill. “It’s a question of whether you want to be shot or hung.”

The movie doesn’t mention “organic,” “pasture-raised” or “grass-fed,” making no distinction between eating let’s say goat meat that has been sourced locally, biodynamically, and ethically versus chowing down on industrially-raised Tyson’s chicken pumped full of antibiotics and hormones where the animal has been subjected to horrid conditions.

The film is also full of false equivalences, meaning it spews logical fallacies in which two opposing arguments appear to be logically equivalent when in fact they are not. For instance, if you are going to trash fast food, understand that it’s not just made up of cheap meat. It’s also full of sugar, carbs, and fillers. And while yes — too much protein can tax your body, says Bulletproof’s Asprey, grass finished ethically sourced meat is not just “pure garbage” of “dead, decaying animal flesh.”

“Protein is a building block for your body. When you eat too much of it (from plants or animals, it doesn’t matter), your body tries to use the protein for energy. That raises ammonia levels in the body, which is bad for your kidneys,” explains Asprey. “But ever worse, some types of protein components called amino acids can directly trigger inflammation in the body when you have too many of them. A final reason is that high protein diets raise levels of a compound called mTOR linked to cancer. You need brief spikes of mTOR to build muscle, but eating high protein all the time raises your cancer risk.”

In figuring out how much protein to eat, Asprey says a good starting point is about 0.4-0.5 grams for every pound you weigh.

In my opinion, this is the kind of solid distinct information the film lacked. And for those of you on Team Vegan who need evidence beyond common sense that our ancestors ate meat, note that the first tools ever made were for hunting and butchering.

These tools are found next to the carcasses of megafauna and are still coated in animal fat, says Keith. Chemical analysis of teeth prove that our ancestors were eating ruminants that lived on grasses.

“Back up 400,000 years — that’s when homo erectus started to become homo sapiens. Brain size increased by 75 percent over a short 180,000 years while our digestive tracts shrank. The only way that’s possible is if our progenitors were eating nutrient-dense foods, which is to say animal fats and proteins,” adds Keith, a former vegetarian herself.

A recently updated and rigorous analysis of changes in human brain size found that our ancestors’ brain size reached its peak with the first anatomically modern humans of approximately 90,000 years ago. That then remained fairly constant for a further 60,000 years, according to the book Primal Fat Burner: Live Longer, Slow Aging, Super-Power Your Brain, and Save Your Life with a High-Fat, Low-Carb Paleo Diet. This factoid should fill us with horror: the human brain has shrunk by 10 percent under the pernicious diet of agriculture.

Incidentally, our brains are made of more than 60 percent fat and don’t require glucose; they actually function better burning alternative fuels such as ketones.

“The archaeological record could not be clearer: Wherever people took up agriculture, they lost six inches in height, their teeth fell out, their bones were riddled with diseases, and their brains shrank,” adds Keith.

Using tests and brain scans on community-dwelling volunteers, aged 61 to 87, who exhibited no cognitive impairment at enrollment, they measured the size of the participants’ brains. When the volunteers were retested five years later, the scientists found those with the lowest levels of vitamin B-12 intake were the most likely to have brain shrinkage. Not surprisingly, vegans who eschew all foods of animal origin, suffered the most brain shrinkage. This confirms earlier research showing a link between brain atrophy and low levels of B-12.

Some of us have unwittingly run that experiment on ourselves. I was an unhealthy vegetarian for seven years. A study from Oxford University followed omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans for five years. The people refraining from meat lost brain volume, with vegans losing a full five percent. In fact, the smallest brain of the omnivore was bigger than the largest vegan brain.

“This is tragic beyond measure,” adds Keith. “People are doing what they are told, eating a plant-based diet because it’s supposed to be healthy, and they are literally destroying their brains.”

The vegan diet is nutritionally insufficient, lacking not only vitamin B-12 but also iron, certain amino acids, and folate (meaning that we should refer to it always as a “vegan diet plus supplements”).

3. Shoddy Science

Move past the mafia informant-type interviews and ominous music in What The Health and you’ll come across nearly 40 health claims, all which are sensational and flimsy.

For instance: one serving of processed meat a day increases risk of developing diabetes by 51 percent. Wrong! According to multiple studies, if you eat highly processed red meat every day there is a 19 percent increased risk of developing diabetes. (Also keep in mind that we do not know what other factors or foods are being thrown into the mix!)

“Most of the claims in the film come from epidemiological studies. These are fundamentally limited in that they can only show associations and cannot establish causation,” explains Nina Teicholz in an excellent blog on the film. She is also the author of The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. “Therefore, this data is really meant only to generate hypotheses and can only rarely ‘prove’ them.”

Among the many problems with epidemiological studies writes Teicholz: “The extreme unreliability of “food frequency questionnaires (FFQ),” which depend upon people accurately remembering what they ate over the last six or 12 months.” These methods also don’t objectively measure nutrient intake or measure food and beverage consumption.

Consider also that human beings do not eat one food but a range, so what foods are responsible for what? For instance, in Greece (where I live part of the year) people feast on nightshades vegetables (full of lectins) and actually exhibit incidences of arthritis. However, they also consume copious amounts of anti-inflammatory olive oil that may offset the effects. Point is things are complicated when it comes to nutrition. Especially when you consider that more and more of our food supply is adulterated, and that there are so many varying opinions/diets.

Teicholz makes another excellent point: in the past 30 years, as rates of obesity and diabetes have risen sharply in the U.S., the consumption of animal foods has declined steeply: Whole milk is down 79 percent; red meat by 28 percent and beef by 35 percent; eggs are down by 13 percent and animal fats are down by two percent. Consumption of fruits is up by 35 percent and vegetables by 20 percent.

“All trends therefore point toward Americans shifting from an animal-based diet to a plant-based one, and this data contradicts the idea that a continued shift toward plant-based foods will promote health.”

In summary, 96 percent of the data in the film does not support the assertions made in this film. What The Health fails to cite “any rigorous randomized controlled trial on humans supporting its arguments,” concludes Teicholz.

4. A Bone To Pick: Modern Agriculture

Whether I am in Guatemala studying permaculture or investigating Blue Zones in Greece, I see how modern agriculture negatively impacts culture, soil (the planet’s microbiome), and human health.

Want to vilify meat? Keep in mind that one season of planting your basic row crops — corn, wheat, soy — can destroy 2,000 years of topsoil. Keith explains that there were farms in South Dakota that lost all their topsoil — all of it — on the first day of the Dust Bowl, a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the American and Canadian prairies.

“That’s what happens when the perennial plants with their matrix of roots is removed — there’s literally nothing to hold the soil in place,” she says. “But the number I really want people to understand is this: civilizations last between 800 and 2000 years, which is how long it takes for the soil to run out. There are no exceptions,” says Keith.

And by 1950, the world was essentially out of soil. Instead of the population loss that should have followed, what we had instead was the so-called “Green Revolution,” in which scientists bred highly productive grains that needed massive inputs of fossil-fuel based fertilizer. If you’re eating grain, you’re eating oil on a stalk.

As environmental journalist Richard Manning and author of The Oil We Eat writes,

“With the possible exception of the domestication of wheat, the Green Revolution is the worst fate to befall the planet. We have got to face what we have done by taking up agriculture if we are to have any chance of saving life on this planet.”

We’re increasingly encouraged to eat less meat to tackle climate change, but how sustainable is it to eat avocados shipped in from Mexico or green beans flown in from Kenya?

For instance, it’s pretty nonsensical but because of EU subsidies, 15,000 tons of tomatoes are imported into Greece each year, at a cost of $11.6 million. Given their love of tomatoes and their ability to grow them, they should be a net exporter.

Perishable fresh fruit and vegetables are more likely to be thrown away compared to meat and fish, and food waste increases the carbon footprint, which counters positive gains.

“Considering that vegetables are over 90 percent water, it’s insane that anyone ships them anywhere,” adds Keith.

And newsflash: we kill dramatically more animals by eating grain than by eating a grass-fed cow. “In very brute terms, agriculture is biotic cleansing. You take a piece of land, you clear every living thing off it, and then you plant it to human use. That’s a long way of saying “mass extinction,” attests Keith.

Modern agriculture has skinned the planet alive. Think about all the casualties involved — rodents, birds and reptiles — that try to live inside fields of annual monocrops.

“The production of wheat requires the deaths of at least 25 times more animals per kilogram of usable protein than protein produced on intact rangeland,” explains Keith.

5. The Meat of The Matter

I do applaud What the Health for bringing more attention to the fact that the conventional meat industry and Big Pharma are behemoths that care about profit over people. However, all of conventional farming is to blame for ill health.

We douse tons of veggies and grains with Monsanto’s glyphosate. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that gluten intolerance is due in part to this herbicide. Worldwide, we’ve sprayed 9.4 million tons of the chemical onto fields since 1974. For comparison, that’s equivalent to the weight of water in more than 2,300 Olympic-size swimming pools. Today, the world is awash in glyphosate; RoundUp is in our blood, breast milk and brains.

And before we demonize meat, understand, adds Keith, that no human population in the history of civilization has ever been recorded surviving on a vegan diet. Our jaws were not designed for plant matter. Ruminants have a jaw for rotational chewing. The human jaw, like that of other carnivores, is made for vertical chewing.

We tear and crush with our jaws, while ruminants grind their food, explains Keith. Mastication is basically unimportant to humans and other carnivores, whereas for ruminants it is vital. Humans and other carnivores have incisors on both jaws; ruminants have them on the bottom only. We have ridged molars where ruminants have flat molars.

“If vegetarians — and vegans in particular — berate you for ‘murdering’ and eating animals, please be kind to them,” says Keith. “They are almost certainly suffering from self-inflicted brain atrophy, and have little recognition of both the damage they are doing to themselves and the harm that are doing to others who follow their advice.”

In keeping with what I said earlier about not shaming others for their food choices, if you are a vegan or vegetarian, monitor your sugar levels and keep inflammation down. Keep in mind, as Asprey points out, that people generally do well on a lower carb vegan diet.

“It takes careful planning to make sure you cover your essential amino acids, so work with a nutritionist if you don’t trust yourself to consistently plan week to week.”

As a tagline, the filmmakers describe What the Health as “the film that health organizations don’t want you to see.” But I’d go as far as to say that many health experts wouldn’t advise you to see it either.

Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, and cofounder and editor-in-chief of HoneyColony. She is also the director of the award-winning documentary film Vanishing of the Bees, narrated by Ellen Page. Follow her on Twitter: @maryamhenein. Email her: maryam@honeycolony.com.