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Sunday, March 23, 2014

The truth of GMOs

Last Tuesday our group met with  one of the owners of Good Earth Al Baylaq. Good Earth is a grocery store like any other. It has fruits, vegetables, cereal, and crackers, but the one thing that isn't apparent is GMOs. Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are hard spot for the untrained eye. Most non-GMO products will proudly bear the butterfly label. The is a national label and is incorporated in the Good Earth store.
Good Earth is hard at work trying to take all of the GMOs out of their store. They has been able to convince many brands to go no-GMO by simply putting a GMO warning under the product. The sales of GMO labeled products plummet compared to the non-GMO products and the brand rushes to make it non-GMO.
What is the problem with GMOs, you may ask? Or, What even is a GMO? Well a GMO, as stated before, is a genetically modified organism. This means that the plant or animal in the product has been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or from other plants or animals. Almost all GMOs are engineered to withstand to application of herbicides or to produce insecticide. So you, as a consumer, are purchasing and eating foods that have been engineered to make insecticide.
Well if you think that this would cause health problems and more than 60 countries in the world agree you. Most developing nations do not consider GMOs to be safe. These countries include Australia, Japan, and all of the European Union, and in all there are serious restrictions or outright bans of the production and sale of GMOs. All these countries must have caught onto something that our government won't let us see. This something is the numerous studies showing the countless, life threatening harms of consuming GMO’s. In these studies animals are fed GMO products and within months they are either dead or seriously unhealthy.
In the U.S. no such bans or restrictions exist. In the U.S., the government has approved GMOs based on studies conducted by the same corporations that created them and profit from their sale. The general public would hope that the F.D.A. doesn’t approve products that cause health risks, right? Well, the F.D.A. has next to no testing for the safety of GMO’s. This is the most surprising piece of information that came out of the interview with Al. The FDA, the only people who are checking these foods, has little to no tests on the healthiness of GMO’s products.
The next question that came to my mind, is how do I stop eating GMO’s. The sad truth is that even though polls consistently show that a significant majority of Americans want to know if the food they’re purchasing contains GMOs, the powerful biotech lobby has succeeded in keeping this information from the public. In the absence of mandatory labeling, the Non-GMO Project was created to give consumers the informed choice they deserve. The easiest way that you can tell if a food is a GMO or not is if it has a non-GMO label. The scary truth is that the government doesn’t tell us about the harms of GMOs because that is how they make more profit.

- Earthscope Journalist Ethan Tucker

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fighting the Rise of Genetically Modified Food: It’s the Consumer that Matters

Although the American public doesn't yet know what the real effects of eating Genetically Modified  (GMO) Food will be, the chances are that if people did know the truth, they wouldn't like it. That’s why the large agro-businesses have poured so much money into stopping any sort of awareness about the issues and the research that has gone on. Even the simple act of labeling something as “organic” or “contains genetically modified organisms” is considered dangerous because, as has been shown by Europe, the consumer will choose the organic food if it is available. The powerful agri-businesses, who have formed alliances with the pesticide companies and the bio-engineering companies, are not willing to give up their hold on American food consumption. Proposition 37, the law which would have required the labeling of food in California grocery stores, was voted down because billions of dollars in funding was poured into advertising against it from large agri-businesses in other states. As Al Baylaq, one of the owners of Good Earth Natural and Organic Food Store said, “It’s scary how much influence they (large agri-businesses) have on determining what the common folk know and don’t know.”
            In order to lessen the grip of these large corporations, the public has to be informed. The consumer is the most important part of the chain because it is the consumer who decides, ultimately, where they will put their money and, by extension, what they will support. That is why Good Earth has made educating the consumer one of the most important parts of their business. Mr. Baylaq said that when people are educated, they are able to make choices for themselves, which are generally the right ones both for their body and the planet. He said that for a while Good Earth was carrying two kinds of popcorn from two different companies but one had almost all organic ingredients in it, the other one had only the two most prevalent ingredients as organic. Good Earth placed these two bags of popcorn next to each other, one with a label stating “Organic” and the other with a label stating “contains Genetically Modified Ingredients.” Within several weeks, the sales of the popcorn which had the genetically modified ingredients had gone down, and Good Earth was then able to negotiate with the company in order to encourage them to have more of their ingredients be certified organic.
            Making informed decisions about the food that we eat is extremely important both for our health and for the future of the planet. Given the changing climate and the rise in population, agriculture will not be able to be managed as it has been for the past fifty years. The public opinion is beginning to shift in the right direction, as illustrated by the new Farm Bill coming up for vote which, for the first time, will include subsidies for organic food. However, there is plenty of work still to be done, and the first step is for you, the consumer, to make educated choices about the food you buy and eat. While conventional or GMO food may be cheaper in the short term, the benefits of eating organic are more important than the cost. Perhaps, by eating organic, you’ll even save yourself some doctor’s bills later in life.

-Kate Iida

This article was based on an interview with Al Baylaq, the owner of Good Earth Natural and Organic Foods. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Agriculture Drinking Up California’s Water

 Agriculture Drinking Up California’s Water
By Kayla Augustine
When most people think about California’s abuse of our water supply, they usually think of waterparks, swimming pools, and golf courses in the desert.  Although these are very wasteful, in California, the major use of water is agriculture.

Agriculture accounts for 85 percent of California’s overall water supply.[1]  The most water demanding of all the crops grown in California is Alfalfa, which accounts for one third of the total water used for agriculture; that is approximately 240,000,000 gallons per year if there are no pipe leaks.[2]  Although Alfalfa uses so much water, it is one of the lowest cash value crops California grows.  California needs to start looking at what is necessary and makes sense to grow or we will have some serious water shortages.

Some people might think the water used for agriculture is not being wasted because it is used to grow our crops; the crops we eat and feed to our animals.  But the high water usage for agriculture of 85 percent is not necessary.  More then 95 percent of the water used for agriculture is evaporated, either on the plant leaves, in the irrigation piping or on the top layers of soil.[3]  Because of the high amount of water being evaporated, it can take approximately 27,160 gallons per acre.[4]  There is obviously not much people can do to stop the water from evaporating, but there are other ways to try and save water.  The irrigation methods we have are not the best.  The Gravity irrigation system is low cost, but is difficulty to manage and the surface run off can cause water quality problems.[5]  The Sprinkler irrigation system has a moderate cost and is easy to manage, but the efficiency is affected if there is wind.[6]  The last type of irrigation system, the Microirrigation system, has an efficient and accurate water use, but it has a high capital cost (up to 1,000 per acre) and is susceptible to emitter clogging.[7]  Although according to the University of California, it is unlikely increasing irrigation efficiency will have a large impact in reducing the amount of water agriculture accounts for, every little bit helps.

[1] Wuerthner, George. "Welfare Ranching: Guzzling the West's Water: Squandering a Public Resource at Public Expense." Welfare Ranching: Guzzling the West's Water: Squandering a Public Resource at Public Expense. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2014.

[2] Hanson, Blaine. "Irrigation of Agricultural Crops in California." Department of Land, Air and Water Resources. University of California, Davis, n.d. Web.

[3] Hanson, Blaine. "Irrigation of Agricultural Crops in California." Department of Land, Air and Water Resources. University of California, Davis, n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2014.

[4] Hanson, Blaine. "Irrigation of Agricultural Crops in California." Department of Land, Air and Water Resources. University of California, Davis, n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2014.

[5] Hanson, Blaine. "Irrigation of Agricultural Crops in California." Department of Land, Air and Water Resources. University of California, Davis, n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2014.

[6] Hanson, Blaine. "Irrigation of Agricultural Crops in California." Department of Land, Air and Water Resources. University of California, Davis, n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2014.

[7] Hanson, Blaine. "Irrigation of Agricultural Crops in California." Department of Land, Air and Water Resources. University of California, Davis, n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2014.

Mismanagement of Water in California

California and the rest of the West are in the middle of a twelve year drought, and water isn’t getting any easier to come by.  Last year, Marin County got less than 20% of the rainfall it was expected to get, a pattern that has not changed throughout the past couple of years. The recent rainfall hasn’t changed this. Although this can be partially blamed on the changing climate and weather patterns due to global warming, mismanagement of the water that California does have isn’t helping the issue.
The majority of the state of California is covered in desert. Before irrigation, Southern California, including the Central Valley where the majority of California’s agricultural businesses are, was desert. There is nowhere near enough natural water in that area to keep pace with the rapidly growing metropolis of Los Angeles or the large agro-businesses of the Central Valley. The water that keeps these places alive today has been shipped in from other parts of the state, usually the Sierra Nevada Mountains, in many cases destroying land and natural resources in the process.
Las Vegas has recently decided to implement a $700 million project to take more water off of Lake Mead, to deal with the loss of water in the area. A new tunnel is going to be built, along with a new siphon, because the siphon previously used is now above water level. The Colorado River is also drying up, not because of the drought, but because its feeder rivers have been dammed so much that there is not enough water to make it down the river. The Ogallala Aquifer in the Midwest is going dry as well, which is going to mean bad news for  people across the west, especially those in cities and farmers.
However, much of this water is not actually needed by the people of California. The number one use of water in California is agriculture, not domestic use. Under the category of agriculture, the most water guzzling products are alfalfa, rice, and beef. It is not necessary for California to produce any of these products. There are many other places in the United States where water is more readily attainable and where these products could be easily manufactured, without contributing to the drought which threatens the state.  It’s easy now with the current technology and data on farming practices to know where the best places to plant are and when and how much to water crops. The important thing is to use this information to increase productivity and sustainability in agriculture.
These issues surrounding California and the rest of the West’s water are not going to go away. The drought that the West has been dealing with for the past twelve years shows no signs of abating anytime soon. The current irrigation practices have been detrimental to natural resources, and they will continue to be needed more and more as the water supply diminishes. Something needs to be done, and soon, in order to stop the mismanagement of water.

-Kate Iida
This article was based on an interview with George Shea.

Dried up irrigation in California

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Looming Water Crisis Reminds us of Past Events

Ethan Tucker
We are currently researching water conservation and interviewed George Shea last Tuesday, who went over the history of water and the state of water today. I found many aspects on the interview very compelling and interesting. Out of all of them, probably the most mind-blowing part was the percent of water used for agriculture in California. 83% of all the water used in California is used for agricultural purposes. Since California grows a very large percentage of the nations fruits and vegetables the high use of water in the agricultural field would make sense. The part of this that is most surprising to me is that of that 83%, a half is being used to grow alfalfa and hay feed for cows.   Pasture and hayfields consume more water than any other crop in California, and use upwards of a third of all water used for irrigation. Cows are not very adaptive to dry environment so they take a lot of water to stay healthy. It takes more than 3,000 gallons of water, from both making the feed and drinking water for the cows, to make just one steak.
What simply boggles my mind, is the fact that 75% of California is desert, but the majority of the nations fruits and vegetables are grown right here in California. Why would we choose to grow that much produce in a state that is mostly desert? It takes so much more water to keep the land good for farming than it would in other places in the United States. So why here? I just do not understand or have an answer.
I was also fascinated with the story of Owens Valley. I personally had never heard the story before and am not sure how well known it is, but it is a story very worth passing on. Owens Valley was a prosperous little place near what is now Los Angeles. Los Angeles itself was just beginning to grow as a city, but was located in a desert with no water around to use at all. Their solution was very devious and destructive. They bought the land around the lake in Owens Valley, which was the closest water source to the growing city, and built an aqueduct all the way to the city. Los Angeles grew and grew, and with the growing needed more and more water to keep the growing population quenched of their thirsts. Quickly the lake began to shrink until what it is today, only a mere puddle to what it was in all of its glory.
All of this said, it can still get worse. California is in the midst of a very severe drought. Even with the current downpour of rain the state is still far behind its average rainfall. It is finally catching up the farming and agriculture industries. They chose to make California a mostly agricultural place when it is mostly desert. It is a bigger scale version of what happened at Los Angeles and Owens Valley. What has happened in the past will happen again, resources will be exhausted because people tried to make something out of nothing; desert into fertile, lush land.

Earthscope Reporter,
Ethan Tucker  

(Owens Valley now)