Healing Our World
Weekly Commentary
By Jackie Giuliano




Our perceptions of the world we create for ourselves are formed by the assumptions we make. We all grow up with a huge list of assumptions, given to us by our parents, our family and friends, and by the way we interpreted the world around us as we were growing up. Sadly for many of us, our formal education never challenged these assumptions since our teachers had them too.

Possibly no set of assumptions affects us as deeply as the ones we make about the food we eat. In a major urban area like Los Angeles, confusion is high. On Friday mornings in Venice, California, a subcommunity of L.A. located near Santa Monica, hundreds of people flock to the farmer's market across from the public library. Fresh vegetables, breads, and cut flowers abound, and everyone feels better shopping here than at the local supermarket. The general assumption people here make is that the food is somehow better and healthier than supermarket food. Is it better? It certainly is more pleasant to shop here, with people milling around chatting and children playing. It is not cheaper, that's for sure. But how much healthier is it?

Of the nearly 50 vendors selling their goods, only 2 claim to have organic food. Another has a sign that says "pesticide free" and a few others, when asked, say, "No, we don't use pesticides." To be honest, from the look of them, I find it hard to trust - more assumptions about someone's looks bearing on his character. Who do you trust? How do you know? In the chain supermarkets, it is rare to find organic produce at all. At the large, local health food stores, the choices can be daunting. Stickers on every sign in the produce section proclaim that the item is either grown by organic, conventional, or sustainable means.

And if you have proclaimed that you will consume only organic foods, what assumptions are you making about what that word means? I think we all assume it means that the food was grown without the use of pesticides. Does that mean no chemical pesticides? What about natural pesticides like growing nasturtiums near the crops to repel certain insects? Is that ok? What about using tobacco juice to repel insects? Is that ok? What about using a genetically engineered seed with a DNA structure that has been altered in the laboratory so the plant repels insects on its own?

What about the soil it was grown in? Does the soil have to be organic? What if the farm was used 25 years ago by a farmer who used chemical pesticides? Can it be used for organic farming now? What if the soil has never had pesticides in it but it is near a dairy and has a high nitrate content? What if the soil is near a major urban area and has particulate pollution on it that has settled from the air?

Was the fertilizer used made from toxic sewage sludge from the local wastewater treatment plant? It is in Los Angeles if you buy the "Top Grow" fertilizer brand.

Can a food be organic if it is processed in a machine that is also used to can meat? How many times have you seen the server in a submarine sandwich shop cut your veggie sandwich with the same knife they just used to cut someone's pastrami sub? Did you say, "No?"

Until now, buying organic produce has at least given some level of assurance that some of the disturbing questions above have been answered. Of course, we assume a lot there as well. Did you ever assume that for something to be organic the soil the food is grown in has to be pure? Don't be too sure of that. The California Organic Food Act of 1990, section 110820, says if farming began after January 1, 1996, then no pesticides can have been applied to the area for the last 36 months. If the farming began before January 1, 1995, then no pesticides can have been applied for the last 12 months.

Wait a minute. You mean that the soil could have been filled with pesticides only a year earlier and the food can still be labeled organic? Yes. There is no requirement to remove the soil. The cost would be prohibitive, and the residues of these toxic chemicals - most of them came from germ warfare agents used in World War II - stay for a very long time.

But, even so, the laws have kept products that use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides from being labeled organic. Until now.

Because the organic food business is no longer a cult fad, but a billion dollar industry, the mainstream food producers want in. But the major agricultural concerns in our country know that they can never comply with the current organic labeling laws with their current practices, so they have successfully lobbied the U.S. Department of Agriculture to change the law. The new law would actually allow the following practices to be labeled "organic."

Genetic Engineering - Manipulating the DNA of seeds with laboratory techniques to produce crops with a particular characteristic such as a tolerance for a particular herbicide like Monsanto's Roundup.

Factory Farming - Using inhumane, intensive confinement, factory farm style production methods on farm animals.

Toxic Sludge - Spreading toxic sewage sludge and industrial wastes, so-called "biosolids," on pastures and farmlands where animals graze and food is grown.

Animal Cannibalism - Feeding back diseased and waste animal body parts, offal, and blood to farm animals.

Food Irradiation - Using gamma radiation that could be derived from nuclear wastes to kill bacteria and insect pests and extend the shelf life of food products.

(Source Pure Food Campaign. See Resources below)

The Organic Farmers Marketing Association has interpreted the USDA's proposal. They say that the new law would allow the following situations:

Vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, beans, seeds and fiber certified as organic that could be: treated with antibiotics to control bacterial infections treated with toxins derived from genetically modified bacteria to control leaf eating caterpillars treated with synthetic substances as production aids, synergists, emulsifiers or adjuvants and/or a number of synthetic pesticides not allowed for use in organic farming under the current law, the Organic Foods Production Act treated with acceptable natural based pesticides that could be laced with synthetic inert ingredients that are classified by EPA as potentially carcinogenic or inerts that have never been fully tested defoliated with active synthetic substances used in conventional cotton production treated with synthetic fertilizers if organically produced inputs are not "commercially available."

Certified "organic" dairy, eggs, meat and poultry that could be: treated with any kind of synthetic antibiotics, parasiticides, medicines produced with synthetic amino acids, genetically modified "Roundup ready" soybeans or corn and/or pesticide treated feed produced with reprocessed animal protein produced with synthetic feed additives treated with synthetic pesticides treated with pesticides laced with synthetic inert ingredients that are classified by EPA as potentially carcinogenic or inerts that have never been fully tested raised in confinement with no access to the out doors, sunlight or fresh air, without adequate space for movement fed organically produced feed for only 3 months prior to being to producing "organic" milk or dairy products fed conventional feeds, medicines or feed additives if organically produced products are not "commercially available"

Certified "organic" processed food that could be: processed with synthetic food additives, colorings, flavorings, enzymes and/or other ingredients treated with synthetic processing aids, "extraneous additives," "incidental additives" or "unintentional additives" composed of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or derivatives of GMOs that are used as enzymes, food additives, processing aids, supplements or ingredients composed of conventionally produced ingredients because the processor claimed that some ingredients were not "commercially available" processed, packaged or stored by an uncertified handler if a processor services three or fewer businesses

When we go out to an "organic" restaurant or want to bring some "organic" food to take home from the supermarket or local deli, we possibly could be buying food labeled "organic" but mixed with conventional food products, conventional or synthetic food additives, preservatives or processing aids.

If ever there was a time to exert our power as consumers, now is the time. It is vitally important that people at the USDA hear from us about the insanity of this proposed change to the law.

It is an insult to our intelligence to suggest that we cannot see that this is an attempt by industry to capture a market that they consider ripe for the taking.

This is also an opportunity to learn about the tainted operations of the USDA, an arm of the government whose job it is to promote business and industry, not solely to protect our health. They hire scientists from Monsanto and other companies to write their laws and uses data from those industries to set the standards. Only the consumers can tell those in Washington that it is time that we took back our right to healthy food, regardless of what the scientists say.

What can we do? Here are some ideas:

send a letter to the USDA. Email is OK, but send a hard copy if you have the time as well. Tell them the proposed rule is nuts.

read the California and Federal Organic Food Acts (see the links below).

Tell the managers of the food stores you shop at that you will not buy food from them if these laws are enacted. Encourage them to have petitions for customers to sign available at the checkout. Wild Oats markets are doing this.

Try, in every walk of your life, to identify the assumptions you make about everything. Begin to eliminate from your life those ideas that have no basis in your reality.

Take greater interest in and control over what you eat. Our food choices not only affect our health, but make a powerful personal, global, and spiritual statement about our values. When you buy a package of something, you are making a powerful statement of support for all that product represents. Be honest with yourself about what you support. Decide what values you want for yourself and your family, and create choices in your life that support those values - in everything you do.

Doing these things can create a powerful grounding force in your life. We hide from so much for fear that the reality will surely crush us. Facing the reality, and doing something about it, is such a freeing experience. Without the burden of fear, you can walk taller, look more people in the eye, and face our Mother Earth with the knowledge that you are doing all that you possibly can.

Remember, you are what you eat.

The thought manifests as the word; The word manifests as the deed; The deed develops into habit; And habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its way with care, And let it spring from love Born out of concern for all beings. -- The Buddha


1. Check out the Federal Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. See what the current situation is at http://web.iquest.net/ofma/ofpa.htm

2. Read the California Organic Foods Act of 1990 at http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/inspection/fve/organic%5Fact/index.html

3. The USDA's web page requesting comments on the proposed law can be found at http://web.iquest.net/ofma/request.htm

4. The home page for the USDA's proposed law is http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/

5. The form for submitting electronic comments on the USDA's proposal is at You can copy pieces from this article to craft your letter. THE PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO APRIL 30, 1998, SO PLEASE ACT NOW.

6. Let Congress know how you feel. Get easy e-mail access to those on the appropriate committees at http://web.iquest.net/ofma/leglink.htm

7. Visit the Organic Farmers Marketing Association for everything you need to know about this situation at http://web.iquest.net/ofma/

8. Visit the Pure Food Campaign at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/1527/

9. Visit another good organic food site at http://www.rain.org/~sals/my.html

10. Learn of the work of John Robbins and his books "Diet for a New America" and "Diet for a New World" through the EarthSave International web site at http://earthsave.org/mission.htm

11. Get links to many other food related sites at http://www.cfarm.com/links/links.htm

12. Get a copy of the Diet for a New America video, possibly the most important 60 minutes you and your family and friends could watch at http://earthsave.org/catalog.htm

This Healing Our World article appear courtesy of Jackie Giuliano (copyright 1998)
and is printed with the permission of the
Environment News Service.

Jackie Giuliano can be found considering growing his own food in Venice, California. He is a Professor of Environmental Studies for Antioch University, Los Angeles, and the University of Phoenix Southern California Campuses. He is also the Educational Outreach Manager for the Outer Planets/Solar Probe Project, a NASA program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to send space probes to Jupiter's moon Europa, the planet Pluto, and the Sun. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at ecojackie@mediaone.net and visit his web site at www.jps.net/jackieg

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