February 28, 2009

nanomaterials named as key threat to future

Named: 25 environmental threats of the future
by Catherine Brahic, New Scientist

"..the great environmental concerns of the future should be nanomaterials, manmade viruses and biomimetic robots.

So say researchers, policymakers and environmental campaigners, who have identified 25 potential future threats to the environment in the UK, which they say researchers should focus on".

read the article here

Israeli snipers targeting Palestinian farmers

"The plan is transparent enough, and what I’ve seen in my nearly 4 months here is the policy of terrorizing the farmers and residents living near the Green Line into abandoning their homes, their land.

There are a number who defy this institutionalized terrorizing, who will work the land until they die, naturally or at the hands of the well-equipped Israeli army".

Sniping at the elders in Khoza'a ingaza.wordpress.com

February 27, 2009

more on nanoginger

A few weeks ago I wrote about the ginger that didn't seem right and I called President's Choice to inquire about its origin, and if it was "milled" to nanoparticle scale. They hummed and hawed and put me off until today.
They called today to say the company (an Indian manufacturer) has a new processing regime and will not divulge the scale of the particle.

My suspicion is that President's Choice ginger is nanoginger! If you follow the links in my previous post, you'll see it exists. I don't worry so much about the molecules involved with ginger being nanoscale, rather, I'd be concerned about the residues of chemicals associated with the ginger (herbicides). These nanomaterials behave VERY peculiarly on a nanoscale.

Just another interesting example of how the world of our food is transforming before our very eyes...and not too many people saying...
hey! leave our ginger (etc) alone!


macro burp-up

nanosilver mutant

"Silver nanoparticles can bind with double-stranded DNA and, possibly in this way, result in compromised DNA replication fidelity both in vitro and in vivo.

Reporting their findings in the February 2, 2009 online edition of Nanotechnology (Food storage material silver nanoparticles interfere with DNA replication fidelity and bind with DNA), Zhang, a professor at the Teda Bio-X Center for Systems Biotechnology at Tianjin University of Science and Technology, and his collaborators from Tianjin University and Shanghai Jiaotong University found that silver nanomaterials can directly interact with genomes".

Read more here

Nanosilver is currently being used as an antibacterial in food packaging, clothing and other consumer items.
Read more about consumer products containing unregulated nanoparticles (with list of products).

February 26, 2009

30-Day Healthier Eating Non-GMO Challenge

"The Institute for Responsible Technology’s (IRT) 30-Day Healthier Eating Challenge helps consumers eliminate genetically modified foods (GMOs) to achieve a healthier body in 2009. Their free Non-GMO Shopping Guide, available now, makes selecting healthier groceries quick and easy".

Read more about this and download the guide at responsibletechnology.org

Hidden Dangers

It is not just independent researchers and scientists who recognize the dangers of genetically engineered foods but the FDA's own scientists whose views were silenced; their consensus was that GMOs were inherently hazardous, different from conventional breeding and required rigorous testing because they would contain new poisons and allergens.

Nextgen Omega 3: cell factories

On my way home from Halifax on Saturday, I stopped at a cafe in Kentville and a headline in the business section of Saturday paper a caught my eye "Biotech firm eyes algae as growth area"
The company, Ocean Nutrition Canada (ONC) is the largest omega 3 fish oil producer in the world with 50 research scientists in its Halifax facility. Meg 3 can be found as a supplement in numerous foods form orange juice to bread. Its revolutionary "microencapsulaion" technology keep the fish from the tastebuds. The omega is sourced from anchovies harvested off the Peruvean coast - but the company is planning to source the omega 3 and other nutrients directly from microorganisms using the cell as a factory microfermentation. They have a patent on a marine fungoid which they intend to use as "cell-factories for the production of co-enzyme Q10, via the genetic manipulation of involved metabolic pathways for optimized commercial production". See the statement from Principal Research Scientist Metabolic Engineering & Fermentations at ONC.
Interesting that the same scientist is also the cofounder of biohydrogen, whose goal is to use cell factories to synthesize hydrogen.

The extensive list of food products containing meg 3 from ONC can be found in this PDF: The Truth about Omega 3.

To read more on the future of extreme genetic engineering (Synthetic Biology), see The ETC Group's excellent report on Synthetic Biology

February 25, 2009


The sun is out for the first time in a long while. The new dump of snow we had this past few days is soft and wet over the ice. The depths vary with the location and where the wind threw it. My calves and their Moms were out in the paddock this morning. Pojangles is the lead pushing out, huge back legged to the furthest reaches, the herd running behind him.
I caught him chewing the electric line. So I lured them back into the barn, tightened up the connections to the energizer and used the wet hay strand trick to find out what was wrong. Thankfully, the old "fencelines are fun to chew" imprint didn't quite settle, because he got a good zap on his pink nose when I let them back out.
I worked nearby, shovelling the snow off from around the base of the hoophouse so I can get the plastic up on her. I'll be able to move my onions in a week or 2, so I can plant the next batch of things under the lights in the potting house.

There are so many things to do and yet the snow is still very ample, the river frozen solid. Yet the sun and the big drips off the buildings today and the presence of my garden under the white stirred some motivation.

I can't imagine having the capacity to write 2 and 3 posts daily, as I had been doing this winter and expect there will be a seasonal rhythm to the blogging. There are too many things to do on the farm and the topics I want/need to write about (apart from my farming) appear to take the kind of time and attention that I don't have if I am to devote myself fully to the farm. It is almost time.

Its a bit scary, a little daunting:those 60-75 hr weeks. The uncertainty of a new garden in a new community.

So in this small window before the full warm bustling of the season, I want to think about how I can be a blogger through the spring and summer and if it is even possible. I do know that I can't be writing about just the ripening of peas and the escaping of cows (farm stuff); I need to write too about the social/political context that I find myself farming within.

February 23, 2009

new arrivals

We had a big dump of wet snow last night and now the wind is furious it was warm and the snow soggy and soft this morning, but it the wind has a frozen bite to it now and everything is back to ice.

I put a lower line on the electric fence for the calves yesterday and let them out for a stroll this morning before the gale came up.

And the leeks are just up, pushing up into the world of my potting house just ahead of the onions, whose white elbows are just appearing. Welcome!

...and one week later before the haircuts

February 21, 2009

Mr whomypopa jangles

I took up courage and drove into Halifax in my old 76 dodge pickup today (first time since the fall) and picked up plastic for my greenhouse, row cover and my favorite type of hoe (hoop).

Made it home without a truck event, and good thing because in the barn there was a family gathering!

skipping already. meet Bojangles

big calf for a little first calving heifer.

February 20, 2009

Research Scientist are gagged and bound

From a statement submitted by 26 Government research scientists

"Technology/stewardship agreements required for the purchase of genetically
modified seed explicitly prohibit research. These agreements inhibit public
scientists from pursuing their mandated role on behalf of the public good unless
the research is approved by industry. As a result of restricted access, no truly
independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions
regarding the technology, its performance, its management implications, IRM, and
its interactions with insect biology. Consequently, data flowing to an EPA
Scientific Advisory Panel from the public sector is unduly limited."

Read about here:
Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research

Published: February 19, 2009

round 2 of the fair wheat fight

"63 years ago, American plant breeder Norman Borlaug developed the high-yielding, stem rust-resistant wheat that led to the Green Revolution, and for which he was awarded the Nobel prize".

The variety, fabulously resistant to the fungal problem of the day, sped the practise of monocropping with promiscuous fertilizer and chemical assistance.
Diversity plummeted with the genetic makeup of cultivated wheat around the world severely diminished.

Enter a new fungal disease Ug99 and there is a desperately urgent situation and an alliance of corportist and philanthropists busy on the reapings.

"A WHEAT disease that could destroy most of the world's main wheat crops could strike south Asia's vast wheat fields ... leaving millions to starve.. has spread from Africa to Iran, and may already be in Pakistan...(which is)the gateway to the Asian breadbasket, including the vital Punjab region".

Frantic plans include enforced fungicide spraying and outlawing planting of wheat in corridors between infected regions but "the only real remedy will be new wheat varieties that resist Ug99, and they may not be ready for five years. The fungus has just pulled ahead in the race".

If you think this is good opportunity for Monsanto to enter and control the wheat market, you'd be astute. It was forced to abandon transgenic (gmo) wheat in 2004 because of a double out cry from farmers fearful of losing markets in Europe and Japan and active consumer's repugnance. It worked.

But Monsanto is persistent; Borlaug is still at it joined by all the usual suspects working to pave the way for GMO wheat.

In a healthy culture of farming, many diverse and dispersed (everywhere) wheat fields check this type of holocaust. The minute, manageable entry of a new pathogen is buffered in the symbiotic, collaborative processes of nature on the farm. Multi-gene resistance is built up and spreads, and passes through exchanged seeds to other farmers in nearby bioregions. Monocropped, monopol-seed in vast tracks of dependent (chemicals fertilizer) is a sitting duck for foreign invaders.
The absurdity of losing the corridors (the bioregions in between) that would be a natural local for building resistance.

Monsanto may have the wheatpill for the latest crop catastrophe (they need them). And if so, draconian rules to speed its conquest will be enforced.

We have to be in the way, in the corridors with old wheat that already have genes coded for resistance (20 % do) and horizontal breeding for resistance, in farms that resemble gardens for their action and biodiversity. We have to have local food security as primary goals of regional food production and regional governance in these matters. We need to get at this fast. In other words, we need to stop GMO wheat by/and having alternatives in place.

Read more about UG99 in New Scientist and here.

Given vulnerable captive agriregions, Ug99 can be seen as akin to a bioweapon. Some have.

Raul Robinson's excellent book Return to Resistance is online.

February 19, 2009

The beauty of hand tools

grain cradle

Hand tools are an art form embodied with a sense of worth and satisfaction.
The salt and oils on the hardwood handles, the nicks and weathered edges.
The memories of a season's lushness, or its drought.
The place where it hangs on the wall, or rests in a nook.

potato planter

seed fiddle, hummelor, spile cleaver, breast plow, dibber, flail,
gore snud. ?

A reverence, a satisfaction with the scent of oil, wood, sweat and metal,
to know the labour saved and life given is potent in a well designed and cared for tool.

beet shovel

Fabulous collection of old agricultural and fenland tools

February 18, 2009

our alfalfa cry

If you drive through the interior of BC, or greener parts of the prairie, everywhere that alfalfa grows, you will see it making its way along the road's shoulders. The release of Genetically engineered alfalfa is imminent, unless we can stop it short. The Canadian Government has approved Monsanto’s GMO herbicide resistant (Roundup Ready) Alfalfa for release but Monsanto hasn't applied for variety registration.

Alfalfa is a key crop for organic farmers. The plant is both an excellent animal feed and a real friend of the soil, fixing nitrogen and drawing up nutrients from the deep - it is a motherhouse of an herb. We need alfalfa. It will be impossible to prevent contamination of the genome. Transgenic alfalfa will be everywhere.

A campaign is in swing. You can voice your opposition to it now, so we have a chance to to live without fear of contamination and the unknowns that will bring. Canola and corn we have lost. A cry was made against transgenic wheat and Monsanto retreated. We need to speak out now for alfalfa!

Sign On to the No to GMO Alfalfa Campaign

SOD Saskachewan Organic Directorate
and C-Ban

Deadline: February 28, 2009

The commercialization of genetically modified alfalfa -- GMO Alfalfa -- planned by Monsanto and Forage Genetics International, would have a severe, negative impact on Canadian agriculture, markets, and our environment. A united effort by agriculture producer groups, consumer and environmental organizations, as well as concerned individuals, will prevent this from happening. A similar campaign stopped GMO wheat in 2004.

This is your invitation to join together to put the brakes on GMO Alfalfa.

small scale grain; not if, but how.

When I farmed in BC on a 126 acre homestead, we had a neighbour who sharecropped several neighbourhood farms in the area. He could work magic on his old John Deere combine and was a sight for 21st century eyes taking up the road with his big antique beauty. He took on about 60 acres of our land to grow wheat, spelt and oats. It worked out beautifully with our vegetable and pasturing rotations. Having a really handy guy with an old combine and all the other equipment necessary to grow grain is a rare honour; Not always easy to find.

If you are handy and live in an area where old agricultural equipment rots in fields or goes through auctions cheap, you could find an old combine like this farmer has.

But what are the other options?

The potential for intimate relationship with food is a thing seen clearly when a year's supply of grain is grown, harvested and cleaned by hand. This intimacy approaches oppressiveness when it is done for more than one's own bread...unless of course there are many of us doin it! (and then it becomes intimate again!)
Patience, perseverance and modest needs indicate a good scythe and a fan or very windy day. Dan Jason in Grain in the Garden (PDF) has an excellent essay on how to do just that.

To be self-sufficient in grain for a large family and their animals or a csa it would be good to look at equipment that is suited for that scale.
Small scale binders, threshers or combines are certainly not a mass produced commodity item and are difficult to find and usually jaw droppingly expensive.
Asia and eastern europe have produced some of these great little machines - some days I day dream of traveling and buying small farm equipment and then I realize ..we have to build them! What a time as the present for small scale local equipment fabrication; lets get to work manufacturing and importing implements for small and 2 wheel tractors (like the BCS) or small stationary units- recycled biodiesel, or ox, or horse - what ever each of our sustainable farming communities decide - and get the workshops humming in community colleges. To get the tools that we need (while we still can) maybe a multi-community effort to import together would be useful as well.

Here are a few links to combines and threshers for two wheel tractors or stand alone.

(A combine cuts and threshes in one operation. A thresher is fed (one would use a sythe or a sickle bar mower to cut the stalks).

Cicoria mobile thresher

thresher made from converted chipper shredder

Small scale corn thresher

Ferrari has here everything to fit a 2 wheel tractor but a combine. But in an article about small scale grains they mention a number of models.

Gene Logsdon's book Raising Small Grains is still arguably the bible on whole topic of grain growing - and its just back in print! http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/smallscale_grain_raising

February 17, 2009

Participatory farming projects

I really like the concept of participatory farms. Some CSA farms are like that, so too are some set ups where animals (sheep, chicken, etc) are owned and managed in part by the city person.
Several cow share operations, like this one in Chilliwack B.C. have come under scrutiny and legal battles over sale of raw milk.

Here is a farm that is bringing grain growing opportunities to folks on Vancouver Island.

"Brock McLeod and Heather Walker will teach you how to start your own wheat field, even if you live in the heart of the city. Using a plot on their farm, expertise and tools, participants will produce enough of the grain of their choice for bread the year through. From The Tyee

February 16, 2009

Nanofood in Europe

"European food companies already use nanotechnology in consumer products, but few volunteer the information to consumers", said Dutch food scientist Frans Kampers.
The reason: "there is greater public resistence to nanoparticles in food"

He is among the panelists gathered in Chicago for the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting symposium "From Donuts to Drugs: Nano-Biotechnology Evolution or Revolution."

Read it here

The Swiss are also looking at nanotechnology and food regulations "because it is now known that the same material as a nanoparticle often behaves differently than when it is used on a macro-scale, this provision does not go far enough in respect of nano-scale additives". here

February 14, 2009

mechanical weeding equipment

I have been thinking about midsized farms after reading about how they are disappearing. Very large farms are surviving and there is resurgence of small farms of 5 acres or less. But the midsized farm and the old "general" farm where a practically closed loop system existed and a living made on a quarter section or so, is disappearing. It is the mid size farms which are the bread and butter of our food security. My first farm was this size and our vegetables fields was 20 acres. We utilized tractors with some very ingenious mechanical weeder regimes that I'd like to describe.

The book Steel in the Field is online at SARE, covering a wide variety of tools that weed, from finger weeders to Kongsgilde s tine cultivators, basketweeders to lely blind tine weeder. The 3 weeding tools that we used on my old farm were:

lilliston rolling cultivators

A heavy tool bar needed for these solid gangs: with several spiked spider wheels on each unit that can angle at 2 points to throw a little or a lot of soil out or into the row. They are ground driven and fabulous at uprooting perennials and useful to hill potatoes. We bought a big unit with a bunch of other farmers and divider up the cultivators because one 3 on a tool bar is ideal for small tractors in vegetable fields.

My favorite machine was an old farmall Super C that had this baby set up on the under belly hydraulics.

Made by a small company in the states the buddingh basket weeder eliminated hoeing in all the 4 row beds (carrots, onions, spinach, etc) for the first 6 weeks. It rolls like a hamster cage scuffing out small annual weeds - not so good with the perennials but they are easier to hand weed out after loosening up with the basketweeder. Ten years ago they cost 1,500 - not sure what they go for today, but it can pay for itself pretty quick if one has over 10 acres of vegetables.
They can be found at Buddingh Weeder Co

The underbelly mount tractors were made with with sweeps and shares, which are useful for 2 row crops like corn and beans. I found it more useful to have a basket weeder under the farmall and use this S-tine cultivator for the pathes and 2 row beds, the tines can be moved along the tool bar to adjust spacing.

Tools I haven't used that look interesting:

I see this tool in action in strawberry fields here in the Annapolis Valley. Buddingh makes fingerweeders that fit on a tool bar that goes under the hydraulics (like the basketweeder) that has similar action to the Ecoweeder. With this tool you need a friend and have greater precision with your weeding.

Here is a link to a slide show

I'm hoping to get over to Willsie equipment sales in Ontario one of these years. They have 10 acres of used vegetable equipment. There are some very inventive machines built over the past century and I'd be as happy as a calf in clover given a chance to wander through the old iron.

The BCS is a great machine

I had a wonderful blue Italian walk behind tractor at my old farm that tilled, pulled a wagon, a lister plow and a sickle bar mower. A grand machine that powers itself, adjustable handles so the PTO can be at front and the machine in reverse, wheels adjusted. I even used it to pull logs out of the brush.

They make diesel BCS as well, its a machine I am currently looking for, because I can make biodiesel from waste grease. I'll post about that soon.

Earth Tools has a number of implements for the BCS and sells several models.

And a video of a combine in use on a walk behind tractor. BCS sells a reaper binder for harvesting grain in Europe and Asia. Not sure if this is available in North America.

Here is another Italian walk behind tractor with implements for the small farm

food sovereignty is the heart of the revolution

Lets mobilize this process started by thousands of farmers, grass roots communities and backyard gardeners. We all have love in our hearts! The realization that we can be linked in love by the very stuff for our survival (food!) is my heartfelt valentines wish. Grow much of your own food this summer, plant enough to share with friends and neighbours, and if not that then buy it directly from the farmers at the market. Ask restaurants to buy from local growers too. Having and cherishing the means for productive sustenance will liberate us.

February 13, 2009

potting house the winter blahs away

A farmgrrl needs a good potting house, to get a few things started while its still a mighty winter out of doors. I have a little tightly insulated one room shack that has painted yellow tin walls. It used to be a honey extraction/ bees wax candle room before I bought the place. It still smells like bees but now its my potting house and there are other earthy tones. A good part of the room has a big black pile of my compost thawing out, various ingredients for the mix and a plywood sheet to mix it all together with a shovel. Then I put it through a screen on a wooden box. The rest of the room is taken up with shelves, construction and the flourescents I'm wiring up today. I tend to do things as I need them, rather than with great forsight, so as I build it it is filled: I am working around the flats of onions, leeks and rosemary I have planted. My little ceramic heater keeps things warm and the CBC keeps me company. What a great way to throw off the winter blues. With Alex T. next door in the big barn to marvel and cuddle, there is a stir of spring to the air even though its bitter cold.

February 12, 2009

Food Calamity Warning

Global Research; Catastophic Fall in 2009 Global Food Production
by Eric deCarbonnel

After reading about the droughts in two major agricultural countries, China and Argentina, I decided to research the extent other food producing nations were also experiencing droughts. This project ended up taking a lot longer than I thought. 2009 looks to be a humanitarian disaster around much of the world

To understand the depth of the food Catastrophe that faces the world this year, consider the graphic below depicting countries by USD value of their agricultural output, as of 2006.

Read the rest

February 11, 2009

The barn is a fine place for philosophy

Alexander T. Bone has made himself at home in the barn with his Moma and his (doting) Auntie. He has a few little warm spots that he curls up in, away from the foot traffic, although he hasn't found his creep yet. I check his little belly from time to time to see if it is full - which it almost always is. He has a powerful instinct to stay out from underfoot and to find the teat and suckle.

I am fascinated with instinctual or intuitive knowledge and think it is overlooked in our human culture. We glorify, codify and exalt scientific thinking as the pinacle in a hierarchical set of mental qualtities. To the top, rationality...fact based upon empirically knowable things. But ask "how do you know" long enough and it will show its all based on our guts.

Our genes are intrinsically wired with intelligent knowledge. Are these habitual actions inherited? And/or are we connected to some greater collective wisdom?

"It (Intuitive knowledge) accounts for our assent to self-evident truths and serves as the foundation up-on which all other genuine knowledge must be established. [Essay IV ii 1] Intuition is most common in our knowledge of identity and relation among clear ideas, but (following Descartes) Locke also supposed that each thinking being has an intuitive knowledge of its own existence". here

Just as it is "luminously evident" to Curls that she must nudge her baby forward, mooing softly and nuzzling his bum, it is clear to some of us that precautionary principle is common sense.
Because very young and "lower" species exhibit this brilliant instinct and because science rarely examines "self-evident truths" ....it must be a "lower" form of intelligence.

Bollocks of course. All knowledge is based on a set of stuff we can't prove, this "knowing it in the gut" quality. The most empirical thinking rests on a foundation of intuitive knowledge.

The problem is that it is masked, enslaved, and disembodied. Disembodied knowledge refuses to recognize its connections, its history, its relationships.
What is self-evident can be ignored and imperial facts made in complete violation of related "luminescent knowledge" (gut feelings) therefore not integrated with all the othere sets of "luminescently" clear stuff. Keeping us divided is strategic.

We are such powerful beings. How much of our abilities do we use? 5% of our brains? While 5 % doesn't factor in the other things a brain does beside think, perhaps some of this abilty is in our interconnectivity, the relational order not based upon heirarchical systems or dominance.

Wisdom of the body. Insights based upon connectivity. Knowledge that we are born with. That is an idea at odds with the contemporary sciencism that rules us.

February 10, 2009

a miracle in the barn

Last night's big full moon in a clear cold sky brought a little miracle.
When I came to check on Curls before going to bed, her water had broken and a little foot, and the tip of a second foot were responding to her pushes, out an inch or 2 but when she stood they disappeared back into her. I had a feel inside to see that the calf was in the right position. The legs looked twisted and for a minute I thought I was looking at two right feet and had a tangle of twins,

But I could feel the calf's head just behind and above the front legs: he was aligned just right.

The contractions were coming every couple of minutes and she was pushing without much rest, breathing short quick breathes...exhausted. When both feet were out again a few inches I helped pulled the legs out a few inches and the next contraction brought little calf's tongue and chin out into the cold, the rest of his face sheathed by the tissue of Curl's bum. So I pulled as she pushed as that head came gradually out.
Once his head was out, it was a stream of wet hot calf into the straw. He wasn't blowing his nostrils out through the mucous though, he was silent and still. Curls was exhausted. So I cleaned the mucous off his nose and rubbed him down with a towel. He took some breaths and made a wee sound.

This little moo changed everything for Curls. She swung around without getting up and the both of us cleaned the wet as best we could off the little fellow until he stopped shivering. Every little sound he made was greeted with a moo. This is the first time I've heard Curls moo. Mooing is for moms!
Every once in a while Curls would lift her head off the beloved calf and lick my hat. She loves him and seems to be an excellent Mom.

I stayed up until he was walking which took a couple of hours. Curls didn't eat the afterbirth which I've seen before. As soon as he was on his feet, Curl's intuition kicked in and she mooed, nuzzled and licked him toward her, under her legs and to her teats. He found the teats within a few minutes.

When I bought the Heifers in May, I was told they had been with a young Belted Galloway bull (these are a small breed Cattle), and indeed now that looks like thats true.

The full moon seems to have a powerful effect on birthing, perhaps its the moon's gravitational pull effecting the "amniotic fluid in much the same way as it effects the water in the sea, rivers and even the water that's otherwise found in our bodies". here

February 8, 2009

Agrobacterium tumefaciens; Biotech's little helper

The common soil bacteria that causes Crown Gall disease (the formation of tumours) in over 140 species of dicot (2 leaved plants) is a key biotech tool. The Agrobacterium tumefaciens is a vehicle of entry to the DNA of plants. It ability to insert a bit of its genetic material T-DNA (the T meaning transfer) into the genome of the plant has been harnessed to genetically engineer most of the current gmo plants.

What other surprises tag along and what exactly is engineered in?

Agrobacteriums's trick is the only known trans-kingdom DNA transfer.
Many different traits and species have been engineered with agrobacterium tumefaciens conquering the genome.
Now recent finding indicate Agrobacterium DNA in the human genome.

What other experiments have there been with gene transfer to humans? How prevalent is Agrobacterium in the population? Since when? Is it responsible for disease?

Research on Agrobacterium

February 7, 2009

Numb and Numb(ers)

With both the of tiniest of sizes in our new technology and the kind of money being printed and passed on as debt to our civilizations, I`ve been trying to understand the size of things. My relationship to quantities is intimate and based on experiences; numbers are most comfortable in the less than dozen paradigm; The under thousand are knowable and perhaps climbing up to the 100,000s in this tangible grasp.
Beyond that, I struggle to understand the relationship of millions, billions and trillions. I think they just seem like big numbers to most people, or small numbers if we`re heading down into the negatives.

But consider:
One million seconds takes 12 days;
One billion seconds roughly 30 years ago;
One trillion seconds around 30,000 years.

"A billion is a thousand million, and a trillion is a thousand billion.
To provide some perspective on just how big a trillion dollars is, think about it like this: A trillion dollars is the number 1 followed by 12 zeroes. Or you can think of it this way: One trillion $1 bills stacked one on top of the other would reach nearly 68,000 miles (about 109,400 kilometers) into the sky, or about a third of the way from the Earth to the moon." Here

The ratio of a molecule of 1 nm to the size of an orange is equivalent to that of an orange to the size of the earth.

Its not surprising then that nanoparticles behave quite differently at this scale. At this level " some compounds shift from inert to active, from electrical insulators to conductors, from fragile to tough".

Money behaves differently at the exponential scale too. It loses its utility and becomes obligation (debt) so mind numbingly remote.

February 6, 2009

Health Canada correspondence

Perhaps there is not enough of us writing to our governments about the sad state of unregulated nano-particle release, It appears that Health Canada doesn't have a form letter, unless of course they have spelling errors in the form letter.
I have posted the correspondance here.

sugar love no gmo

Stop GM Sugar Beets this Valentines
Take Instant Action to Keep Canadian Sugar GM-Free!

From C-Ban

SEND AN INSTANT VALENTINE MESSAGE to sugar company Lantic Inc.

Canadian sugar company Lantic Inc. (Rogers Sugar and Lantic brands) needs to reject Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) sugar beet and stay GM-Free. Lantic Inc. is the only sugar company in Canada that processes sugar beet (in Alberta) and it is currently GM-Free. It is deciding now if it will accept GM sugar beets for the first time. >read the rest and send a valetine.

Science catches up to common sense: food not fuel

With world grain stocks precariously low several years and an increasing number of people going hungry worldwide, common sense would indicate the disaster implicit in converting more of our diminishing farm land to fuel crops.

Unfortunately, we are not ruled by common sense, so a little science if you please. (I hope we don't have to thank the oil industry for this).

Biofuels Ignite Food Crisis Debate

ScienceDaily (Jan. 29, 2009) — Study highlights problems linked to converting crops into biofuels Taking up valuable land and growing edible crops for biofuels poses a dilemma: Is it ethical to produce inefficient renewable energies at the expense of an already malnourished population?

David Pimentel and his colleagues from Cornell University in New York State highlight the problems linked to converting a variety of crops into biofuels. Not only are these renewable energies inefficient, they are also economically and environmentally costly and nowhere near as productive as projected. Their findings are published online in Springer’s journal Human Ecology.
Read the whole article in Science Daily

And go on over to La Vida Locavore to read Jill Richardson's take on the battle of the pro and anti ethanol camps in Washington.

February 5, 2009

Cadbury's cynical joke

I find it darkly cynical that Cadbury pioneering nanotechnology in its packaging, if not candy and food products, has the arrogance to allude to the treachery of unstudied new nanoparticle release with its advertising slogan

Here Today Goo Tomorrow

Grey Goo, as wiki describes "is a hypothetical end-of-the-world scenario involving molecular nanotechnology in which out-of-control self-replicating robots consume all matter on Earth while building more of themselves—a scenario known as ecophagy ("eating the environment")".

The new "innovation is the twisted chocolate: “It’s no Creme Egg… it’s Twisted!”
the ads protraying the sinister birth of an evil thing that causes mayhem.

Is Cadbury is bracing itself for what little controversy we might muster, further dumbing us down so that all we really feel, deep down in our candy stuffed guts, is "gorge for the moment" apathy? Its all a conspiracy anyway Cadbury, right?
wink wink nod nod.

nano chicken fashion

Chicken feathers, of which battery operations generate plenty, could soon with the help of nanotechnology be regenerated into textiles for nanochickenfeather wear.

Fashion on the farm, Ecotextile news
VICTORIA – [05.02.09] Chicken feathers may seem a very unlikely candidate for turning into textiles but it seems that making clothes from feathers could make sustainable sense after all.

USDA: when experimental GMOs escape we want the authority to do nothing

US Plan To Tolerate Unapproved GMOs In Crops Draws Concern
Author: Bill Tomson
Publication: Dow Jones
Date: Wednesday, February 04, 2009
The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to cement into law its authority to do nothing when unapproved biotech material is discovered in crops, and that has raised concerns by groups worried about the purity of food, U.S. exporters and foreign importers.

New authorities are needed to deal with the rapidly advancing field experiments of genetically modified crops, according the USDA\'s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service\'s plan to control the industry. But the agency also made it clear there are plenty of conditions under which it will do nothing if those experiments end up in the food supply.

See also Reuter: Us Unable to Weed Out Unapproved Modified Food

Hungary holds firm on GMO Ban

January 30, 2009, 10:07 CET
Hungary to defy European Commission call to scrap ban on GMO crops
By Hungary Around the Clock

Hungary will keep its ban on GMO (genetically modified organisms) maize imports and the planting of GMO seeds, Agriculture Ministry undersecretary Zoltán Gőgös announced.

The European Commission recently called on Hungary to entirely lift its GMO ban.

Last week the EU's executive arm backed proposals that would grant standard ten-year licences for the two GMO maize types. Hungary, one of the region's biggest grain producers, became the first country in eastern Europe to ban GMO crops and foods in 2005, when it outlawed the planting of MON 810 maize seeds, which are marketed by the US biotech company Monsanto.

The call on Hungary to reverse its stance on the issue comes both from lobby interests and the fact that the EU did not recognize scientific evidence presented by Hungary, Gőgös said.

The pro-GMO camp say that Hungary could make good use of the new technology to provide an answer to the worrying structural surpluses of the Hungarian cereal sector in view of future CAP reform.

February 4, 2009

I smell a pig


Its the trait hog. The imperialistic grab of life qualities. Slap a patent on traits...like wartiness/bumpiness or good oilyness, porkiness, or the simple fact that it has a trait that you can follow (marked) without any biotechnology. Its like putting a patent on nerdiness or freckles and charging those of us so endowed royalties for the priledge. I assume these are species wide claims.

"patent claims have been made for soy beans with a better oil quality 3 covering large parts of the plant genome when used in conventional breeding and technologies to improve conventional breeding (such as marker assisted breeding). Some of the most threatening examples in this context are patent applications from Syngenta which claim huge parts of the rice genome 4" see


There has been a big storm here and I've been snowed in. So I used powdered ginger in a lemon ginger bread I made yesterday, and I'd wager its a Chinese product. It has a very sharp, amplified, lingering taste; something not quite right about it.
I had heard that spices were being subject to special milling to make into nanoparticles, so I did a google search. And yes, it appears there is nano-ginger. There are several Chinese companies Mill Powder Tech Solution that "Really grasping the Hi-Tech skill of grinding the international-grade of nanometer powder". Lets just hope they clean the machine after nanotizing silicon zirconium borax or magnesium stearate - and other stuff they advertise to mill. Nanoginger particles I worry less about then the contaminates, chemicals on the ginger that are milled along side.
I called the number on the package, was put on hold a long time while she looked up the bar code, and was told that she didn't know the origin of the product (let alone if it was nano particulates, she has to contact the manufacturer; I will keep you posted.

February 3, 2009

Patent on Bumpy Pumpkin

ETC Group
News Release
2 February 2009

Message to USPTO: Squash the Patent on Bumpy Pumpkins; there's plenty of prior (w)art

On December 4, 2008, while most folks in the United States were eating the last slices of pumpkin pie left over from Thanksgiving dinner, the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) published patent application US20080301830A1 on a Warted pumpkin, “invented” by the Director of Sales & Marketing at Siegers Seed Company in Holland, Michigan, USA. The patent application claims a “warted pumpkin...wherein the outer shell includes at least one wart associated with the outer shell of the body.”

“The claims made by these Michigan 'wart hogs' are outrageous,” says Pat Mooney of ETC Group. “Characteristics vary more for pumpkins than for just about any other plant on earth. Some pumpkins have smooth surfaces; some are barely bumpy and some are way warty. No doubt that's been the case since North American indigenous peoples domesticated them thousands of years ago. Evidence of warty pumpkins goes as far back as the sixteenth century and runs straight through to the twenty-first.”

The patent application includes 25 broad claims covering a range of pumpkins with bumpy surfaces (i.e., 5% to 50% of surface is “warted”), a range of wart sizes relative to the pumpkin's surface and a range of wart colors. The application also claims a range of pumpkin patches (i.e., 25% to 75% of patch contains warty pumpkins). It also claims specific varieties – the application states that the “invention” may “comprise a Cucurbita pepo and/or maxima,” encompassing fruit called gourds and squashes, as well as pumpkins – and it claims plant, seed and tissue of warty pumpkins.

The patent application, if granted, would impose a monopoly position in the U.S. over all Cucurbita pepo and Cucurbita maxima exhibiting a warty surface. “It's déjà vu – like the 'Enola' bean patent all over again,” says ETC's Silvia Ribeiro, referring to the U.S. patent 5,894,079 granted in 1999, which claimed a bean variety of Mexican origin, including its characteristic yellow color. The patent owner, Larry Proctor of Colorado, USA, charged that Mexican farmers were infringing his patent by selling yellow beans in the USA and shipments were stopped at the border. Proctor also sued seed companies and farmers selling or growing the Mexican yellow bean in the USA. Soon after the USPTO granted the patent, ETC Group denounced it as “Mexican bean biopiracy.” The Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), with support from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, filed an official challenge in late 2000. The USPTO reexamined the patent and rejected all of its claims back in 2005. But the patent owner appealed the ruling and the patent is still under dispute.[1] “So for almost a decade now – that's half of a patent's lifespan – farmers and seed companies have lost lucrative markets because of a monopoly that everyone – except the patent holder – agrees is technically invalid and morally unjust,” says Ribeiro. “If the USPTO accepts this warty pumpkin patent, it will be another wart on its already blemished record permitting the monopolization of indigenous knowledge.”

An important difference between the 'Enola' bean case and the current case of the warty pumpkin is that the USPTO has not yet granted the patent, though it may decide the application's fate as early as February 4, which is 60 days after its publication. ETC Group and others, including growers and sellers of warted pumpkins in the U.S., have sent the USPTO documentation of the existence of warted pumpkins dating well before – in some cases centuries before – Siegers Seed Company's “invention” timeline, which begins in 2002. (See PDF at http://www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?pub_id=721 for illustrations.) There's such a plethora of “prior art” that even the patent-happy USPTO shouldn't be able to overlook it. ETC Group also raised its concerns about the pending patent with The World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) based in Tainan, Taiwan. AVRDC holds accessions of Cucurbita pepo and maxima in its gene bank – some from the U.S. – and a U.S. patent could have implications for the Center's Cucurbit plant breeding and germplasm exchange. “We know from the 'Enola' bean patent debacle that even an obviously bad patent can still live a long and destructive life,” says Kathy Jo Wetter from ETC Group's U.S. office. “The USPTO should reject all 25 claims of the patent application on warted pumpkins.”

[1] See ETC Group, “Hollow Victory: Enola Bean Patent Smashed At Last (Maybe),” 29 April 2008, available on the Internet: http://www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?pub_id=683

For more information, contact:

Pat Mooney - ETC Group (Ottawa, Canada) etc@etcgroup.org
Phone: +1 613 2412267 Cell: +1 613 240 0045

Silvia Ribeiro – ETC Group (Mexico City) silvia@etcgroup.org
Phone: 011 52 5555 6326 64

Kathy Jo Wetter - ETC Group (Durham, NC, USA) kjo@etcgroup.org
Phone: +1 919 688 7302

February 1, 2009

The Irresponsibility of nanoproduct releases

Burt Bees, "natural product" with nano titanium dioxide.
Natural....right? Safe right?

The consumer product industry has blazed ahead with applications of nanotechnology - they are in the supermarkets right now. There are pathetic gaps in definitions and testing to assure the safety of nanoparticulates that are being foisted, unlabeled, upon us in packaging, in food sprays, in nanoencapsulated nutrients. Where is the controversy? Is protection of the population something the Government has given over to Industry and proving its safety in the courts will become the citizen's recourse? Because its hidden in the slumber of ignorance we don't know what we are eating, wearing or spreading on our bodies. And we may not soon enough.

What is the status of the recommendations from the 2006 The Institute of Food Science & Technology: PDF
"the products of this technology should be considered more deeply by legislative and safety committees. At present, it is considered legal to sell such materials for use in foods, based on the clearance data for the macroscopic material and the level of detail that may form part of any related product purity specification. Furthermore, if food technologists consider that they are simply reformulating foods formed from the same ingredients, then it is unlikely that they will feel obliged to seek new toxicological advice or clearance for the final product. Given that there is no requirement to label foods containing nanoparticles, then consumers are unlikely to be aware of such applications in foods".

"While the regulatory agencies may be making these efforts a little late, because some products are already available and development has been started on many more, we can hope that current discussions will help consumers to benefit from improved and safe food products with a minimum of controversy".

Some groups are attempting to hault the flood of products with nanosilver "filing a legal petition with EPA demanding that the agency use its pesticide regulation authority to stop the sale of numerous consumer products now using nano-sized versions of silver, called nano-silver". Also here.

Should consumers have to battle in the courts, with each dangerous nanosubstance/ nanoparticle? Governments need to stop licensing new products and remove existing ones until such time as their saftey is proven. Why is there no common sense in governance?

Nano particles Without Macroproblems
By Barbara Karn and H. Scott Matthews
Little by little, nanotechnology has crept up on us. From a mostly academic exercise 20 years ago, it has swiftly progressed to the point where the technology is just about everywhere: in fact, there may very well be engineered nanomaterials in the clothes you’re wearing at this very moment. If they were sold to you as wrinkle-free or stainproof, the fibers were almost certainly treated with nanotech processes that stave off stains and creases.
More than 500 products on the market today incorporate some kind of nanotechnology.
Read this article