The Peace from Food


Two things happened the other day that has really struck me.  In my GMO debate class, Dr. Tony Shelton, an entomologist, put this quote up on one of his lecture slides.

There can be no peace in the world so long as a large proportion of the population lacks the necessities of life.

–Lord John Boyd Orr

I left the class pondering this quote for some time.  It’s really similar to what Norman Borlaug stated about there being no peace on an empty stomach.  It made me also think of my husband who gets “hangry” when he is hungry.

After my classes were done, I was talking to one of my Alliance for Science fellows, Peter Wamboga, who is from Uganda.  I wanted to learn more about the situation in his country and what was happening to the people there.

Uganda is one of the leading countries growing bananas, which is their staple crop.  It’s getting hit by all kinds of diseases that are destroying plantations.  A single plantation could yield crops for some 25 years but diseases are wiping them out.

The Ugandans other staple crop is cassava which is also being hit with diseases.  He explained to me how a farmer would plant these tubers and wait for six months to dig it up only to find it rotten.  The disease striking the cassava yields it inedible that even the wild pigs won’t even touch at all.

Farmers don’t know what to do and have complete loss of crops and no incomes.  Their children see the devastation of farming and decide to not farm.  With no crops there is no income.  Some 70% of the population relies on agriculture and crop failures hits entire communities.

With no crops, there is no income and plantations are abandoned.  New lines of work must be found and many head for the capital, Kampala, for opportunities which is already hard to come by.  A cycle of poverty starts.  Some 48% of people in Uganda live in poverty.  Peter said that many people are food insecure and live on a single meal a day if they are lucky.  Quite a few don’t eat most of the time.  The very young and old are hit the hardest.

With rampant poverty and few economic opportunities, the youth turn to crime and join terrorist or crime groups.  It’s a bad situation when the primary economic driver is impacted and there is little to do to combat these problems.

The hope that the Ugandans have exists but they can’t access it.  There has been a lot of cutting edge research on biotech solutions developed by the government itself but due to the first world politics in Europe and the U.S., their parliament has stalled the biosafety bill for nearly 20 years.

The papaya farmers in Hawaii know firsthand that crops can be saved by science.  Despite the success of it, outside radical environmentalists are ready to demonize this technology and create fear mongering campaigns.  They made claims that there is GMO contamination but don’t tell the truth that there would be no industry it it weren’t for biotech.  They told other countries that the GMOs would bring worse diseases and viruses and scared them, yet provided no options for solving the real problem of plant diseases.

These same radicals are creating the fear campaigns against GMO cassava by telling farmers to reject it because of the contamination and the virus will get worse because of this technology.  Greenpeace launched an eerily similar campaign against the papayas yet gave no solution to saving this crop.  They created a barrage of fear of in farmers around the world but still gave nothing back to them. They will go so far as to tell them that GMOs make people overweight or gay.  They take advantage of the uneducated population by manipulating emotions.

The events unfolding in front of me became too clear yesterday.  While activists are trying to portray the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation as bad for working with Monsanto, the kind of actions they are taking is way worse than I can fathom.  These people cannot see the consequences of their actions around the world.  By keeping the developing world from producing their own food and using technology to do so, the elitists foodies and activists promote more hopelessness and destitution right at the heart of the farmers.  The farmers are what supports these communities and their work feeds people.  Without food, there can be no peace.

Hungry, desperate people leads to an unstable society that is easily manipulated by unsavory interests.  That’s the real threat that makes this a huge global issue.  Global instability can hurt all of us.  

The most seemingly benign issue such as the “Right to Know” GMO label is even more dangerous.  Greenpeace and ilk tell the people in the poorest countries that biotech products are dangerous which is why it’s labeled.  They are deceitful with what they tell the public here but then craft a different story to others.  They claim that they are being kept in the dark and have named the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act the “Dark Act.” This act is correctly named by the activists as passing this law means less darkness and despair for the developing world who wants this technology.  I can just see it that by giving into the GMO label will be miscommunicated as warning to the poor that they should reject that’s crops.  That’s how these activists will likely spin the stories.

I’m terrified to think of all the consequences of this global GMO debate.  It may mean that one day, my little boy may be called up to fight in a war to protect our country from global instability.  My children may not be able to live in times of peace and prosperity because of an angry, hungry world.

I cannot sit back and let misinformation, dishonest tactics, and willful ignorance deny others the right to food.  The decisions we make now and the global impacts indeed are real.  I want a peaceful world for my children and we all should support those innovations that will lead us in that direction.

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The Science We Eat

 Once again, the experiences I’m having here at Cornell just makes me realize how ignorant I am about food and farming.  The more I’m learning about plants and food production, the entire concept of what’s natural and what isn’t really gets blurred more and more.  It’s also kind of bothers me how “informed” consumers really are.

I had the opportunity to take a tour of the Cornell Research Station in Geneva, New York.  It’s a place where all kinds of research is taking place to help study various crops from grapes and berries, renewable biofuels, and a gene and crop bank.  It was also the place where the biotech papaya was saved.

Here is a just a few of the different research and breeding activities happening there.

   
   
In each of the above photos, there is a huge variety grapes, berries, and apples.  The colors, texture, shapes, and tastes are all completely different despite all being of the same fruit variety.  It really makes you realize how we as humans have manipulated everything we eat.

Many of the professors speaking to us are world renown for their knowledge and expertise with breeding these products.  They use a lot of technical know how of applying both conventional breeding techniques with a vast amount of information from gene mapping of these crops to determine the expressions of certain genes.  

It’s not GMO development that they are seeking but using the power of genetics to understand how the breed the best plants that consumers and growers desire.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a conventional farmer or an organic farmer, all want good products from strong, disease and pest resistant plants.  

There is an amazing amount of science that is going into every food that we eat.  Some research focuses on disease and pest resistance.  With those traits bred into a crop, it means stronger plants that need less sprays and hopefully increased yields.  Other research focuses on plant architecture such as decreased thorns to make it easier to harvest.  Flavor and texture factors are also a major consideration with crop breeding and genetics. The varieties are also gene mapped to learn the locations of the traits too.  This is high tech science in things we eat everyday regardless of the way it’s grown.  

The tour I took at Geneva really fascinated me about how much there is to know about the foods we eat.  We are so accustomed to simply driving to the store and selecting out our food.  I wonder how many consumers think about how those varieties got on those produce shelves.

The trend now is to eat natural.  When you look at what really is natural in the wild and what’s in the market, there is a stark difference.  Then if we actually taste what is wild, it’s clear why we don’t eat those products.  

I also start to realize how much science is going into our entire food supply that is unnoticed by consumers.  While there is a seemingly loud contingent of people demanding the right to know about GMO, they don’t even know about the thousands of years of science that even developed our current varieties.  The fact that scientists who understand this technology advancement are being attacked by these activists is even beyond me.

Our American foodie culture loves the latest and greatest heirloom produce or new breed of vegetable but are clueless of the amount of science needed to develop that novel vegetable.  If we want to have unique fresh produce, we need to go back and ask questions about how we even got our food variety.  It’s one thing to demand the right to know but you’ve got to really know to appreciate the amount of science we eat every single day of our lives.

What kind of science did you consume today?

#FoodiesShouldLoveScience

What Happened to We Are the World Kind of Thinking?

What Happened to We Are the World Kind of Thinking?

I remember as a kid this song that really touched me.  To see so many stars get together for a single cause to end suffering was truly moving.  I have to stop and ask myself, what happened to that feeling of compassion for others? Have we forgotten to think about our fellow human being worlds away from us?

Maybe it’s because the millennials behind the anti-GMO movement didn’t know this song or many of the stars who came together to support this cause.  Maybe it’s because they weren’t seeing images of suffering on TV very much.  Maybe they are too focused on themselves and what they eat that they can’t possibly see anyone else’s needs.  Maybe they weren’t taught to think of others after their needs were met.  Maybe they have never know the trials and tribulations with growing up on a farm.

I grew up in a time where I had very little and when there was a little bit of ability to treat ourselves, it really was a treat.  I wasn’t made to feel guilty that I had to eat spam and rice with canned corn.  I didn’t care if my clothes were sewn by my mom or secondhand from my cousins.  I didn’t have brand new books to read because we just couldn’t afford it.  I learned how to appreciate the things I had.  I was also taught to give to others if we had extra.  That’s the life lesson learned on the farm.

We saved the junky, ugly fruits for ourselves while the customers received the most beautiful ones.  If we had other produce like corn or cucumbers grown, we’d cut up all the bug eaten stuff and save the good parts for our dinner.  We weren’t worried about how it looked or what kind of label it had.  We wanted food that didn’t cost us an arm and a leg.

What really are our priorities in this world?  Is it to remained worried about what WE are going to eat and how it’s grown and what kind of labels we demand on our food? Or is there a higher priority for us as first world citizens to consider for those in our own country and the world community who aren’t as lucky?

So what happened to the compassionate feelings of the We are the World kind of thinking in this day and age?  It’s time for us to reflect on the world we want for the present and future.

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The Pay It Forward Shill

The Pay It Forward Shill

  
My time here in Cornell has been somewhat of an emotional roller coaster ride, but not in a bad way.  I came really excited to meet fellow allies who have been affected by the anti-GMO activism across the globe.  As I learned about their stories and experiences in Kenya, Ghana, Bangladesh, Philippines, and Nigeria, I felt very sad.  They had firsthand experiences of knowing farmers’ who have lost their crops and livelihoods to disease and pests.  My dad’s farm also has had the same experiences but thanks to technology, he still can grow his papayas.

My dad worked two jobs for the majority of his life.  He had a full time day job at the BYU-Hawaii physical plant to provider our family with a steady income and health insurance.  After he finished work there, he went to work on the farm.  When the farm failed over the years to disease, his day job was the backup.  My siblings and I also had to take on part time jobs once we were of age to work to support the family.

For farmers in developing countries, farming is the main economic driver for their communities as I’m learning.  Some 80% of the population relies on agriculture for their livelihoods.  If crops fail, it spells utter devastation for many and the consequences go far beyond just the farm.

I’ll readily admit that I was somewhat ignorant to realizing how important agriculture is to the people of Africa.  I was really saddened when I saw this meme of the Hawaii anti-GMO movement on a slide in a Kenyan farmer advocate’s presentation.

  
It included many Hawaii politicians and activists that were behind the furor of the movement back in 2012.  Here were well fed and clothed people using misinformation to demand the labeling of GMO under the disingenuous “Right to Know” campaign.  The Hawaii movement was indeed affecting many countries in Africa the right for farmers to use a technology, all of which are public sector developed, to help grow their crops and sustain their families.  I feel ashamed that we, the people of the Aloha State, were using misinformation to keep farmers from these tools that could offer better ways of farming.

The activists were quick to demand their rights but think nothing about the rights of others to have access basics.  Not only do these people promote a selfish message but they also told people that they’d turned gay or impotent by consuming GM foods! They used the battle cry of home rule but knew explicitly that Hawaii’s wins would dictate the issue in far off countries.  I can now clearly see how we as a state is truly being used as a pawn by radical extremists like Greenpeace and the seemingly legitimate Center for Food Safety.

I felt the bleeding of aloha early on in the social media and can now pinpoint the source of it.  The Greenpeace attitudes of using intimidation, threats, and ecoterrorism have taken root in my home state.  Their manipulative fear campaigns take full advantage of otherwise normal folks and get them to reject the science permeating our lives.  It’s mean to take advantage of peoples’ ignorance and turn them into raging bullies on the Internet.  This is a clear reflection of radical environmentalists dictating policy which is wrong but accepted by the activists who defend bad behavior.

I was truly disappointed when the state attorney general, Doug Chin, signed on to the Vermont labeling case.  Leaders of our state still haven’t figured out the true motives of the manipulation.  We are food secure and can demand all kinds of rights about our foods and use it as a means to scare other countries on why it’s bad.  It sets a bad precedent to the world who truly needs these tools.

My heart breaks knowing that my home state is the center of this global battle that shouldn’t be.  How can we call ourselves the aloha state when we allow ourselves to be manipulated like this? We have no aloha if our actions deny others a better quality of life.  

I want others to have a better quality of life and truly believe in using evidence not emotion to guide our policies.  The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association generously gave me $2000 to help further my knowledge about agriculture globally.  I thank them for investing in me but I realize that I am able bodied and can work to earn income for years to come.  

There are people at home who need help and after much thought, I selected the best use for their generosity.  I decided to donate $1000 each to the Hawaii Food Bank and the Meals on Wheels program.  I get peace knowing that 117 meals can go to seniors through Meals on Wheels and some 250 meals can be given out by the Food Bank.  Why should I deny others food when I have plenty?

So, yes, it is first time I can truly call myself a shill for taking money from the industry.  I’m officially the pay it forward shill. It’s not in my pocket but in the hands of those who need it the most.  Will my home state do the same by setting an example to the world by supporting policies that helped our papaya farmers help global farmers? 

Lead by example and let’s start today by giving to others with evidence based policies.

  
  

 

When Science is Silenced

Last week was science week at the Cornell Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellowship Program.  I had a chance to get some great education on entomology, crop science, animal science, and plant breeding.  I’ll admit that I am very much uninformed about many of these areas of agriculture and it’s nice to have a good basic understanding of these topics to start good fact based discussions.  It’s amazing to me how the average social media person can state that they know more than scientists after sitting in on so many of these great lectures.

The other day, I had a chance to hear Dr. Kevin Folta speak about his topic and what’s happening with the Freedom of Information Act abuses by Gary Ruskin’s U.S. Right to Know group.  This group has used the FOIA law to obtain the emails of Dr. Folta in an attempt to connect him to the evil empire of the anti-GMO movement, Monsanto.  (You can read more on this attack on him and some 40 other scientists who have chosen to speak out for science.)

I’m very saddened by the kind of tactics that the organic industry has leveled against people who have chosen to speak out for science.  The leaders of this industry take advantage of people’s fears and bombard them with lots of misinformation.  Their entire marketing scheme relies of maintaining fear.  It’s a very precarious state to maintain when people start to question it.  This industry in threatened by education because once someone is provided some inkling of knowledge and facts are challenged, the truth comes out loud and clear.


Humans are curious brings from the time we are born.  My son reminds me of that everyday.  As soon as he gets up, he’s crawling around searching his environment and exploring his world.  Everything is new to him and interesting.  He has an innate ability to want to touch things, stand up on different objects, crawl or scoot, or just roll around.  Every single one of us is born with that fascination.

I find it very dangerous that the USRTK has taken the liberty to use a law to stifle that curiousity.  When people are no longer encouraged to explore their environments or ask questions, we literally become imprisoned in our own minds.  It’s the same tactic that the Hawaii anti-GMO activists do when they create catchy slogans like the “poisoning of paradise” and “destroying the sins” and so on.  Their slogans are very cleverly framed also so that if one does support GMOs, they back you into a corner that one must be pro-pesticide.

It is no different when people like the Food Babe pre-bans people on her page to avoid criticism.  It’s the same tactic the Babes Against Biotech did to me when I pointed out that some pesticides in organic agriculture are toxic to bees.  A movement based in fear and misinformation can’t tolerate any questioning and relies on repeated slogans and catchphrases.  True education and critical thinking is dangerous to their movement.

The heart of innovation comes from curiousity and always figuring out ways to do things better.  We don’t like doing things the same old way every time and look to be more efficient and improve upon ourselves.  Science is a process that helps us look at things differently to figure things out.  It gives us the base knowledge to ask questions and figure out a plan and process to solve a problem.  When farmers have problems with their crops, it is the scientists who work with them to help provide solutions to sustain their work.  I know because I’ve seen how papayas were saved by research and technology.

The world needs more curiousity and innovative thinkers.  It relies upon leaders like Dr. Folta to challenge, engage, educate, and inspire.  It’s what I do for my children to prepare them for the future.  My dream is for them to become leaders in their fields of choice guided by evidence based reasoning.  I hope that great scientists like Kevin Folta and others light that flame in the youth of the world.  Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know but go out and learn about it and figure out how to solve a problem.   We as a country need to restore respect for work of any scientist who actually do work to help people through educating others to do the same.  When their students leave their classes, they will go on to work some place and develop their skills to make things better for each of us.  That is what we all want for the world we live in.

The Personal Price of the Anti-GMO to Me: $1695

I’ve known for some time that the Babes Against Biotech ring leader, Nomi Carmona, bought my domain name some time ago.  She created an anti-Monsanto screed calling me the GMO papaya princess.  I didn’t bother to fight it since it only shows how the anti-GMO activists use personal attacks instead of facts to base this entire movement upon.  

I happened be talking to a colleague about this website today and found out that it doesn’t exist anymore.  

  
Looks like I have to spend $1695 to buy my domain name back from the cyber squatters.  I’ll just let this remain as it to reiterate the fact that the anti-GMO activism in Hawaii must rely on personal attacks against those who refuse to give an alternative to what they wish to take away.  Aloha is a concept that apparently is hard to demonstrate when you don’t have any facts to support your cause.

The Anti-GMO Club is a Danger to Native Hawaiian Forests

Image from flickr

Image from flickr

The native Hawaiian forests are in danger.  The culturally significant ohia trees are dying due to a fungal disease and it’s happening very quickly and we stand to lose a very important species to our native forests. These trees are not only important to the culture but also to the forests and watersheds that it protects.  A loss of this tree will have a significant impact upon our already fragile forests and diversity of native plants.

The ohia is so important that Hawaiians even tell a story about this beautiful tree.

The legend says that one day Pele met a handsome warrior named Ohia and she asked him to marry her. Ohia, however, had already pledged his love to Lehua. Pele was furious when Ohia turned down her marriage proposal, so she turned Ohia into a twisted tree. Lehua was heartbroken, of course. The gods took pity on Lehua and decided it was an injustice to have Ohia and Lehua separated. So, they turned Lehua into a flower on the Ohia tree so that the two lovers would be forever joined together. So remember, Hawaiian folklore says that if you pluck this flower you are separating the lovers, and that day it will rain.

There is a potential tool to help save it but I have a feeling that the global anti-GMO will be hastening the demise of this tree.  We are learning that science can help trees be restored in the forests, just like the GE American chestnut may be returning to forests.  The question is, will we let this happen?

Yes, the native Hawaiian groups who decided to join the anti-GMO movement, the Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, the Babes Against Biotech, Greenpeace, Whole Foods, Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Senator Josh Green, Representative Chris Lee, Senator Russell Rudeman, Councilmember Gary Hooser, Vandana Shiva, USRTK, and Hawaii SEED will likely be behind the loss or extinction of the ohia. Why? All of these groups and leaders reject the science that could help to rescue the Hawaiian forests.  They stand in the way of innovation that can save the native Hawaiian ohia and other plants being attacked by disease, climate change, and other factors.

These people have spread the message around the world to ban GMO technology based on unscientific claims.  They want to take away our ability be able to save our forests and native plants based in emotion and not in science and in the name of misinformation.  Yes, even the organic industry itself is behind attacking scientists who may have the expertise to improve the survival of it.  To these people, their actions show that they could care less about what the dangerous consequences they make.  There is no integrity in people and leaders of this movement who personally attack researchers, send death threats, and vandalize crops.  They are not out to save our Hawaiian forests or provide tools to do so.

Instead, they create burdensome regulation that limit the potential of any GE trees from making it back into our forests.  Will their profits and GoFundMe accounts donate to saving the ohia? No.  Instead they will tell the public that science propaganda and that biotechnology is all about Monsanto to encourage others to the reject any research or funding of preserving the forests.  I find it so hypocritical that those who love the environment destroy potential ways of doing things more environmentally friendly with less resources.  If one really loved the trees, they wouldn’t work on destroying living things that can help lessen our impact on earth.  These people are about doing attention seeking actions that do little to solve real problems.  It’s short lived and plainly not sustainable but gets them lots of press.

These so called environmentalists who care for the aina accept the science of climate change but then deny the consensus on biotech applications.  How can you love the forests and hug dying trees? When you block the technology that would save that tree or plant, there will be consequences of that choice.  What will we be left with?

So if you’re protesting GMOs and any scientific endeavors, rethink your stance and question if you truly understand what you’re protesting.  Does your protesting help to save those culturally important symbols of Hawaii or will you leave only a picture of that ohia to tell the story of it to your children?  When you walk in the native forests, will you walk among those native plants of your ancestors or will you just see dead stumps of trees because you refused to consider the possibility of using science to save them?

We have the potential to save this native species and should seek to do so for the sake of its cultural and ecological importance.  The protectors on Mauna Kea blocking the Thirty Meter Telescope need to protect the ohia now or face the loss of this precious tree.  Like the plucked flower of the ohia, we will all weep forever when that happens.

Reading recommendations:

Unearthed: Thanks to science, we may see the rebirth of the American chestnut

Anti-GMO Activists ‘ecologists’ destroy GM eucalyptus seedlings in Brazil

Drought begins to kill redwoods and other iconic trees while state’s forest fire risk rises