Interviews with Priscilla Feral and Nick Brannigan

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2/8/2012:

Part I: Priscilla Feral
Friends Of Animals

Priscilla Feral is the Friends of Animal President, who works out of FoA’s International Headquarters in Darien, Connecticut.

2/8/2012:

Part II: Nick Branningan
Genetically Modified Food

Nick Brannigan is the author of I’m Eating WHAT?!?: The Health Risks of Genetically Modified Food and 10 Real World Solutions to Avoid Them the free eBook available for free at www.imeatingwhat.com

TRANSCRIPTION PART I:

Hello I’m Caryn Hartglass and it’s time for It’s All About Food. It is February 8th, 2012 and as you know on this show we talk about things related to health, environment and animals. I always try and mix it about a little bit and today we are going to focus on the first part of show with animals. We are all animals; people and all the other species on the planet that we share everything with, the air, the water, the soil. I am going to bring on Priscilla Feral, who is the president of Friends of Animals. Friends of Animals is a nonprofit international animal advocacy organization which was incorporated in the state of New York in 1957. Friends of Animals works to cultivate a respectful view of nonhuman animals, free living and domestic. Their goal: to free animals from cruelty and institutionalize exploitation around the world.

Caryn Hartglass: Welcome Priscilla to It’s All About Food.

Priscilla Feral: Hey there, how are you? Thank you.

Caryn Hartglass: Good. I just want to know everything that we can possibly talk about Friends of Animals. You do so many amazing things and I didn’t even know that you’ve been around for so long, since 1957.

Priscilla Feral: Absolutely. I feel like I started there when I was in grammar school, but seriously I was in Connecticut, the office for the cooperation was in New York City and I was going through some early career counseling, sort of what the hell do I do with my life. As a career I want to do something beyond taking stenography and typing and I was a member of animals having had my cat spayed there. So I took a train to New York and interviewed with the president and her assistant was leaving and after a very short interview she just said you’re hired and make sure you show up on time. I said, well what’s the job, and she said stir up a hornets nest. That was November of 1974. I worked there 38 years and have been president 25 years. What I think I am most proud of is trying to maintain the kind of rigorous style that I was attracted to that she showed all of us and that was independent thinking. A medium to smaller sized group that worked hard and wasn’t anxious to be part of somebodies flock and I think that serves us well through the years.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, absolutely. Now did it start out as an organization to spay and neuter?

Priscilla Feral: It did, but that was kind of a secondary effect because what Alice Herrington, the president, did was she said she always loved cats and she tried to start an adoption group of sorts and she told me for every cat I adopted out in New York City another one came back. She realized that the burden of trying to have an impact on the homeless crisis was going to require affordable spay/ neuter surgery. She started out then a program we maintain today, is a nationwide program that attracts people to a network of vets that we have. We’ve produced 2.6 million surgeries at this point. We have spared a lot of cats in dogs in existence where they end up in a miserable situation.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, did Friends of Animals always have a vegan focus as well?

Priscilla Feral: No, but the first focus on animals is food and certainly the first factory farming expose was ours and it was crafted by both Peter Singer and Jim Mason back in 1974. They did that work and did the investigation and produced those books in our library there on the spot. I became educated about factory farming through Friends of Animals and the vegetarian advocacy really followed. For all of us in the office it was kind of a program where the more we were aware. We really weren’t aware of the vegetarian movement per say, but we were aware of conscious why and we’d stop eating animals. It was kind of a reaction to the information that was gathered for the campaign.

Caryn Hartglass: The movement that you talk about, it’s certainly a movement today. Certainly the internet and social networking kind of enabled us to get that message out far more actively than ever before, but you have been doing this a really long time. Two questions: What do you see as the things that you are happiest with, proudest with about the vegan movement? Where are the frustrations still today?

Priscilla Feral: What I am happiest with, the vegan cooking shows, now designed for television. Vegan mash up is one that we are going to sponsor, I’m just wild about a cook book author and a member of Friends of Animals, Miyoko Schinner.

Caryn Hartglass: We talked to them a few weeks ago on the show, great stuff.

Priscilla Feral: She is brilliant. Brilliant in person, what she produces is brilliant; her new book is going to be perfect. I see her as a breakthrough cook and artist. I think she is going to inspire a lot of people to move away from cheese and dairy and she is just lovely on top of it all, but I am a cookbook junkie and a food channel junkie. I love to watch people doing demonstrations of food, prepping food, plating food. I’ve got two vegan cookbooks that I authored and I like cooking so to me this inspires people. If you are in a leadership role in anything, it’s not about motivating people that produces change, it really is inspiration. I think showing people how to do it in such an attractive way by people who are savvy, bright and have good social skills. This is the way to get really get great ideas to evolve. So I am thrilled about it. I am happiest about that. I am the most disappointed perhaps with a trend among some large groups that try to obtain concessions from animal exploitation industry. I understand that it is more lucrative to try and work that way because people are more agreeable and are inconvenienced less. I think it’s the wrong way to build veganism as a social movement. If we are going to have it slide as a social movement, meaning it’s working around the globe, you really have to renounce domination and systematic sowing, that is not cracking a deal with industry.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I was going to bring that up, this concept of animal rights vs. animal welfare and the organizations that are trying to get whatever they can rather than focusing on the real point. Is torture okay if it’s a little less torture than more torture?

Priscilla Feral: You are right, you’re absolutely right. I just got back from West Africa because we have a re-introduction project in Senegal. I could tell you how demoralizing it was, really shocking for me to travel 3,000 miles in three days on land, so I saw a lot of landscape, in Northern Senegal and the landscape was really saturated with livestock, with goats, sheep and cows. This is an arid area of Senegal, it’s not tropical, it’s not rainforest; some of the jungle habitat that they really do have elsewhere. It’s where farming is animal farming; if you look at that in all the trees cut down for firewood; the lack of electricity and poverty. All these people really think about is eating meat as some form of status. Of course we set that example here in the United States. What we think status is about, a steak or some such thing. The crime in that so much is not only our indigenous animals were replaced with this livestock grazing and how miserable it is for animals. There is no factory farming involved, it’s not that animals are confined in close quarters, it’s that they are betrayed. They are betrayed right in front of your face. They also head to the same slaughter area that any animal has to that is considered food. So whether the animal can be out in open space or whether it’s confined and has so many days of living and then its head is cut off, it’s truly the same at the end. Yet, as an animal rights movement, so many of us are left to try and litigate these miseries along the way and I think it’s a giant mistake. What I saw in Senegal was deeply depressing on several levels, but to come back here and to have this chatter about, it’s factory farming and so all you have to do is put a different fix on that and it will all be okay. Peter Singer and Jim Mason started doing that in 1974, in the year 2012 we are in the same place? Good lord.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, good lord. You are doing great things and what are you doing in West Africa? You have a project there.

Priscilla Feral: About a week ago I was on 60 minutes for a segment on this project actually. The upshot is we are keeping three species that were prized at Texas hunting ranches, that brought the industry there about a billion dollars a year, out of these hunting ranches. The way we got there was to not only start a re-introduction project in Senegal, that’s what we did in 1999. That gave us the standing to make the fish and wildlife service list these three animal species as endangered. They were rendered extinct in their African homeland. To stop the fish and wildlife service from giving up blanket exemption to the hunting ranches in Texas, meaning they could breed them, trade them, sell them, shoot them and call it an act of conservation; if you can believe that? These Oryx antelopes or gazelles lived a year maybe two years max before they became a trophy for somebodies wall. These are wealthy tourists who rode on the same plan as I was every month, going in there to shoot on these hunting ranches and pay maybe 5,000 dollars to 10,000 dollars to shoot one of these animals that is half tame, they are not particularly afraid of people and they are trained to go to a certain area for water and trained to come to a bell and there is corn to feed them, what have you and they call that a safari club adventure and depending on the quality of the poor animals head they get points from safari club international in their trophy book. These are demented things that people call hunters here in the United States. In Africa, where I went, they are trying to re-introduce some of those animals that were wiped out by French trophy hunters many decades ago. Right now the animals that we’ve brought there and we have established and protected reserves, about 175 individuals from one and few dozen of the other are protected. If you are trying to observe the rights and interests of an animal within an ecosystem and you are protecting that habitat, that approach is conservation. Not that hunting scheme and tactic.

Caryn Hartglass: That is just incredible. I’ve heard about this kind of “hunting”. There are so many crazy things going on in the world you can’t really rank them, but this one is so shameful. These people have no idea of what they are doing and they are just bored or something. I don’t know.

Priscilla Feral: The contingent of people that call themselves males have pride involved here; involving some sense of power of stealing a life of another. When someone shoots a deer in some areas of the country, that body is put on top of the car to get some kind of applause or gee that looks like quite a feat, you with the gun and the animal with nothing. Really, what is obscene, even though there are just 12 million of these people in the United States left, is that they have a strangle hold on so much of the government policy. It includes the Obama administration and a few administrations before that. When you get back to Bill Clinton, then you see some real positive changes there. There is so much to do and there are pundits among the animal rights community that think all you have to do is talk about what we consider food and that cures every other ill. I think that is selling a lot of animals short. There are indigenous wild animals that are also afforded rights or they ought to be. That means you have to care about the space you are living in and sharing. If you continue to consume animals from big flocks and farms, that’s land that is off limits to wild horses and wolves and coyotes and lots of other animals that deserve a place on this earth too. I am thrilled to talk about food and encourage the right trends, but I think there is a broader perspective that perhaps like-minded groups, I would hope, would begin to embrace and use as educational points for their members.

Caryn Hartglass: I agree with you. The thing about food is that it is a way to crack open the door and make people pay attention. I find that a lot of people who realize they don’t need meat to survive all of the sudden at some point during their journey have this epiphany and they realize what’s going on around them and they realize that all of these other animals that they are not eating are individuals and deserve a life. Food is so close to us and we use it almost every day. I think it’s the easiest way to get people to realize what’s going on all around them. There are so many issues and I am sure you have heard this people say why do you care so much about animals you don’t care about people. We treat people just as horribly as we do animals.

Priscilla Feral: Well yeah, and you create the body that you’re living with by the way you care for it and how you feed it. It really does get back to how we view domination how we view our treatment of everyone else around us. Whether rights advocacy is doing the appropriate thing, which I think is to urge people to opt out of exploitation and all its forms. Embrace human rights just as much as animal rights and certainly there is a relationship.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, absolutely. You are involved with Primarily Primates Sanctuary in Texas?

Priscilla Feral: Yes, sometimes over my head.

Caryn Hartglass: These are all huge things. This is something that I think a lot of people don’t have any idea about what’s going on.

Priscilla Feral: Well thank you because that’s my obsession. It is true that for many years, while we were just donors to this sanctuary we also tried to establish, within Africa, an island project for chimpanzees. Knowing that there are lots of orphaned chimpanzees needing sanctuary and it doesn’t mean yanking them out of Africa and bringing them to the United States. The upshot of all of that today is that we sponsor an island project for chimpanzees in the Gambia. The Gambia is a country that runs through the middle of Senegal in West Africa. That’s thrilling to go there in this remote area of the world and see these tree islands. I guess we have 97 chimpanzees that are monitored and looked after there now and the government is in a partnership with the foundation and Friends of Animals so it’s a cooperative arrangement and we provide the financing. 97 chimpanzees have baboons to have little battles with and other monkeys, gorgeous varieties of birds, but a life as close to what is normal as possible. The boundary of the islands is really their perimeter because they don’t swim. They are on an island and they are not going to stray into the water. They consider water a hazard. In addition to that, back in October of 2006, I got a call that the Texas attorney general in Texas, of course, has raided the sanctuary Primarily Primates in San Antonio and that they had a suggestion of PETA obtained allegations about neglect and abuse there and therefore all the assets were frozen. The staff didn’t know what to do; they were turned out of the place. For a while some other people were in there with a court appointed receiver. Six months later, after I hired a law firm to try and defend the sanctuary and sort out the mess because we didn’t want to see the place dismantled with hundreds of monkeys and apes without homes or without decent care. We were asked by the AD’s office to head up a new board of directors and I agreed. That was taking on a lot because it meant the first year, to try and improve the infrastructure of the sanctuary; we had to come up with a million dollars to do that. The year after that another million and then we had to build the reputation back. It’s been since May 2007 we worked very hard, we have tripled, quadrupled the staff, brought in an onsite veterinarian. Today the sanctuary is just gorgeous. I am very proud of it. It’s a place of, what we hope, of security for animals that are trapped in animal exploitation industry. People will rally outside the primate labs and say stop torturing monkeys or some such thing or tell someone to stop using chimpanzees in commercials for super bowl. There are lots of good people rally against the exotic pet trade which makes lemurs, monkeys, chimpanzees and orangutans and whatever trapped in people’s homes for absurd purposes. The truth is if they are going to be released from those industries they need a place to go. The place to go is usually the unheralded sanctuary. Those people really are on the front lines, but they’re not getting the headlines. They are not getting the bulk of any national group attention for the most part and they are not getting the donations they need to really secure a future. We are managing Primarily Primates we are doing their administrative work, their fund raising work, I travel there every month. I help sometimes with hiring people. I certainly interfere constantly, I am sure they tell you that. I have learned a lot from them because I think the staff is excellent at; is to be involved with the individual animals, the four hundred or so, they know them, their observations are excellent, all that is a dream. Raising the money is a challenge. To run a place like that with four hundred residents, you need a budget of a million dollars or so a year. A habitat for spider monkeys can look wonderful for a few years and then you need lots of repairs. The minute you take chimpanzees into any given area they start banging on it. They figure out a way to loosen up everything that’s in perfect shape before they get in. Any sanctuary for primates or any animals constantly needs improvements and changes. We are devoted to that for the rest of our lives here too, to help this place. It really needed that kind of rescue and has survived to keep it of all odds.

Caryn Hartglass: I have just been holding my breath listening to all of this. There are just some many things going on in this world that shouldn’t be and we hear all the time that there is so much money out there and so much of it goes to such ridiculous projects. It is good to know a certain amount is going to do really good things.

Priscilla Feral: It’s through hard work. I think if people can devote themselves to breathe taking, to stretching themselves, to doing things that aren’t easy, that would be a boom to our civilization and this movement.

Caryn Hartglass: I like to that, when we read that the economy is struggling that is when some of the greatest inspiration and the greatest work happens. I am hopeful that something good can come out of our economy being in the toilet at the moment and that people start to really think about what it is they want to do and why they are here on this planet and that most of that energy will go to be doing some really, really good things. Do you have an opportunity to be close with any non-human animals?

Priscilla Feral: You mean like at the sanctuary? We have 3 cats and 2 dogs and 2 of the dogs come to work here every day. We’re closer than close. At the sanctuary, I have to confess I have favorites. Absolutely, I have spider monkeys that are just dear to me, in fact a string of them and gibbons there and lemurs, one lemur named Jordon who I am just head over heels over. At my house, my home, I watch squirrels, who look like they are terrified of me, go up and down the tree and use the nesting box. I am thrilled out of my mind. Animals give me a deep sense of joy. It’s just true. I’m hard wired for the confrontation involved in this work and at the sense that these animals deserve. I am very, very lucky to work here and to be able to express all of this.

Caryn Hartglass: I think that those who are involved with close relationships with animals realize the joy that they get from this silent sort of bonding and communication. We see it in so many different ways, that there are different ways to heal emotional issues that animals can do things that we cannot do.

Priscilla Feral: My dad used to say the dog doesn’t talk back. If you grow up and you get to reach a grownup stage, you can appreciate this, the forgiveness. I think I am forgiven for a lot.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, Pricilla, thank you so much for talking with me today and I love the work you are doing. Please visit www.friendsofanimals.org and I hope that you continue to be energized and inspired and work hard for a very long time. The animals thank you!

Priscilla Feral: You’re wonderful, thanks so much.

Caryn Hartglass: Take care. I am Caryn Hartglass and you’ve been listening to It’s all About Food and we are going to take a quick break and get back to talking about genetically modified food. We’ll be right back.

Transcribed by Mary Schings, 4/25/2013

TRANSCRIPTION PART II:

Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food, and this is the second half of our February 8, 2012 show. We’re going to move on to health and environment and talk about genetically modified food, the subject that doesn’t get near enough attention. So we’re gonna give it a little bit today with Nick Brannigan, who’s the author of I’m Eating WHAT?!?: The Health Risks of Genetically Modified Food and 10 Real World Solutions to Avoid Them. It’s a free e-book that you can grab at imeatingwhat.com. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Nick Brannigan!

Nick Brannigan: Hi Caryn, how are you?

Caryn Hartglass: Great, how are you doing?

Nick Brannigan: I’m doing excellent, thanks for having me on today.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so how did you get into this passion against genetically modified food?

Nick Brannigan: Well I first heard the term “genetically modified,” “GMO food,” years ago, but I took it as this was something that they wanted to do to the food supply. I didn’t realize it was food that I was eating every day.

Caryn Hartglass: Mmhm.

Nick Brannigan: Maybe two or three years ago, I heard a late-night talk radio show with Jeffrey Smith. He got into the details, the ins and outs of GMO food, and at the time I was still a very unconscious eater—

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.

Nick Brannigan: —still eating a lot of packaged foods, a lot of animal products. But I started checking the labels, and the major crops—that’s corn, soy, finola, beet sugar, and cotton—was in nearly everything that I was eating. So over time I started—I had a newborn baby at the time—and I started paying more attention to the labels that I was eating, what she was eating, and it really bothered me that really no one knew about this topic, like you said when you opened up, it’s a topic that doesn’t get a lot of attention.

Caryn Hartglass: Yep.

Nick Brannigan: But it’s food that we eat every day. I became more not only into watching what I eat but into advocacy work, and I took speaker training through the Institute of Responsible Technology, which led me to writing this book, I’m Eating WHAT?!?.

Caryn Hartglass: By the way, I’ve had Jeffrey Smith on my show a while ago—I should get him on again—but he also hosts Ecoshock, which airs every Saturday at 2pm on the Progressive Radio Network. We love Jeff Smith and all the work that he’s doing. And I’m glad that you’re joining him to get this information out, because more people need to be talking about it. There are reasons, though, that we don’t hear much about genetically modified food unless you’re really looking for it, and one of the reasons is the companies that have been promoting genetically modified organisms in food have been lobbying against labeling of our food products for a long time. So there’s only clever kind of circuitous ways to know whether GMO are in our food—genetically modified organisms—like… We know that if we buy food that’s organic, the food is not going to be genetically modified, to a large percentage, and I say that because unfortunately, genetically modified foods, as they grow unprotected in fields, have pollen just like other plants and some of that pollen can actually contaminate other fields. So even though we buy organic and want to believe that it’s the highest quality possible, there is a chance that there are some genetically modified organisms in there. It’s a very, very small percentage, but that’s kind of the best we can do.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah, that is a big issue with the organic products, is that to use the at-risk products, which are the major crops that I stated—corn, canola, soy, beet sugar, and… What was the other one? Oh excuse me, cotton. Yeah, cottonseed, flew my mind, it’s cottonseed.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh sure, cotton oil.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah, that is true with organics. People don’t know about the cross-contamination with pollen drift. That’s why if you use these major ingredients, get them non-GMO verified. It’s a process where they actually test the crops before they go to processing to make sure they haven’t been cross-contaminated with the transgenic DNA, because it is possible. Now, some distributors do test it when it gets from the farms. They’ll test the corn from an organic crop and if it doesn’t contain the GMO DNA they won’t buy it. That’s really hard to know who actually does that, because some companies will take it anyway because they don’t want to lose their profit versus not having real organic foods. And the unfortunate part is the USDA organic process would allow that crop with the GMO DNA to continue to be labeled organic. That’s why it does contain those five major ingredients to make sure that not only they’re organic but non-GMO project verified.

Caryn Hartglass: I know that some companies were actually getting their corn products from Europe to guarantee that the corn they were using did not have genetically modified organisms in it because we have so much contamination in the United States.

Nick Brannigan: That is very true because it’s 90, I think it’s 90% of the soy grown is genetically modified, something around 88-90% of corn has been genetically modified, 95% of beet sugar. The European Union, there’s some GMO crops grown, but they’re few and far-between because the consumers pretty much rejected GMO foods in the late ‘90s based on some press that it got then. And all the major American food companies withdrew GM ingredients from their European lines but they kept them in the American products because Americans are so in the dark about what they eat, especially when it comes to this GMO food.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so what… I’ve heard this a lot: why should we care about eating or not eating genetically modified food?

Nick Brannigan: Well studies have shown that there are major health risks of eating GMO foods. For examples, studies they did in Japan show that it suppresses the body’s ability to get rid of—to digest, degrade, and detoxify—toxic substances from the body. They also did studies showing that it affects the Sertoli cells of the testicles in rats, and the main function of the Sertoli cells is to develop sperm. And there’s a lot of evidence out there showing that GMO foods could lead to sterility in not only animals that the food is fed to, but also in human beings as well. There’s only been one human feeding study done and it didn’t study any of the long-term effects. So we don’t know the long-term implications of genetically modified foods, and that’s one of the main reasons I’d avoid them a hundred percent, because fifty, maybe sixty years ago, someone smoking a cigarette, you could say to them, “You know, that’s very bad what you’re doing to your body right there. Cigarettes are bad for you.” And they would call you a conspiracy theorist back then. And now I don’t think there’s a person on earth that smokes a cigarette that doesn’t know it’s bad for you. Is it going to be the same thing for GMO foods in forty or fifty years?

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, doctors used to promote cigarettes as healthy.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah, you could see a lot of advertising saying doctors recommend this brand of cigarette.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. But I’ve read numerous reports that say that they’ve done long-term studies, and those studies are usually like ninety days. They’re not long-term, and they’re not on humans.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah, my research, longest study I’ve come across was like a twenty-four month study on rats. Rats have very similar DNA codes to human beings but in just a few years they’re already showing negative side effects in the rats

Caryn Hartglass: So I’m always talking about how it’s important to eat primarily a plant-based diet—organic, locally grown—and you were mentioning that a large percentage of the corn and soy that’s grown in this country is genetically modified, and most of it is to feed animals which ultimately become food for people. But those genetically modified organisms stay intact, and you can get them by eating the animals.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah, it’s definitely like a—I believe it’s a percentage, it’s something like 80% is fed to these factory-farm animals. So the number one thing you could do is go vegetarian. Now personally I follow a vegan diet, but I do support the organic dairy companies because if people still want to get dairy products, by buying an organic one, that’s right there you’re withdrawing the support from all that GMO feed that’s fed on these animals. Like for example, you can go to the store—and I don’t eat eggs either—but you can see there’s eggs that are omega-enhanced. How do they enhance those eggs? They feed the chickens flaxseed. So the trace in the flaxseed is transferring over to the final egg that comes out that you’re buying. So they’re feeding these chickens and these animals GMO corn and GMO soy. I think it’s a little obvious that that DNA gets transferred over to their final product as well—the eggs and the dairy and the meat.

Caryn Hartglass: Yep. Well I’m glad to hear you’re not eating dairy and eggs. That’s a good thing. But it is important to acknowledge that other people do, and when it comes to genetically modified, even if we’re not eating genetically modified, if plants are growing around, they can contaminate everything. So we really want to get these things off the planet.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah like, for example the beet sugar has contaminated Swiss chard, I believe, and conventional beets with the transgenic DNA. So you may get a beet that’s not genetically modified, well it actually could be. Fortunately it is not sprayed with the deadly pesticide glyphosate, but we don’t know what the GMO process is doing to us long-term, let alone the heavy chemical spraying that they do.

Caryn Hartglass: Now one of the things that I think would help is proper labeling. There’s been all kinds of studies that have shown the power of some very simple labeling. There was one recently where they studied putting in a hospital on beverages—beverages that were labeled green were healthy, red were not healthy, and yellow were somewhere in-between—and people went more for the green labeled beverages. It increased significantly from what they were doing before when it wasn’t labeled, so there is definitely an impact in labeling, and the companies that make genetically modified foods know that. That’s why they don’t want things labeled although they’ll talk and say that there’s no difference in their food, and so it doesn’t have to be labeled because the food isn’t different.

Nick Brannigan: Well funny to say that, such an idiotic statement, because it’s a contrary to what they call the food: it’s genetically modified. So by definition, it’s different than non-modified food. And there’s no logical argument against labeling; just like you said, they know they’re going to lose all their profits. People are going to stop buying genetically modified food once they can clearly see the label on there. It’s like when you go to—people that drink orange juice. Some orange juice says 100% juice, some orange juice says made from concentrate. Some people don’t care if it’s from concentrate, some people want 100% juice. That’s all it is, people just want to know what they’re eating.

Caryn Hartglass: Yep.

Nick Brannigan: And there’s no logical argument against labeling.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s not going to keep everyone away from genetically modified, but it’s a first step.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah, I am kind of on the side that if people want to eat that food, best of luck to you, you should be able to eat it. It’s just going back to the pollen drift that is an issue, to where it is contaminating other crops, and that’s not fair to consumers and to the organic farmers. But if you want to eat GMO foods, go right ahead, it’s up to you. But people should have the right to know and people should have a choice. And there’s no logical argument against that.

Caryn Hartglass: Let’s put the personal health thing aside—although what I’m going to say really is going to affect personal health anyway—but let’s talk about the environment for a minute and how genetically modified foods affect the environment. There’s a number of different ways that growing GMO food has adverse effects on the environment.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah well, for people that don’t know this GMO process, the main crops are designed to get heavily sprayed with a toxic herbicide and not die. The main herbicide is produced by Monsanto called Roundup. Main name is glyphosate. They’ve been doing a lot of studies lately that have been coming to light that the glyphosate actually penetrates the groundwater. It’s been found in the air in a couple of southern states—it’s been found in the rain. So the genetically modified process alone is bad enough through the pollen drift. But these—you spray heavy herbicide on the soy plants, it kills all the weeds around it, but the soy doesn’t die. And they’ve been finding that the weeds have been becoming more immune to the glyphsate spray—they’re calling them super weeds. So the response to that is, “Let’s spray more herbicide on it.” So the herbicide spraying has doubled since the planting of genetically modified soybeans. And you see a lot of spin from the, mostly Monsantos, but all these chemical companies, where they talk about how pesticide spraying has gone down due to the Bt cotton and Bt corn. But what most people don’t know: there’s a difference between pesticide and herbicide.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, I’m so glad that you brought that up.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah, the herbicide—only recently, I found this out in my research for this book and so this is news to me. So the herbicide spraying has gone way up, and the pesticide spraying may have gone down, but people are eating concentrated levels of pesticide now.

Caryn Hartglass: So let’s just talk a minute. It’s easy to know the difference: pesticides kill pests, like bugs, herbicides kill weeds, the plants that interfere with the growth of the desired plant that you’re growing for sale. But they’re both toxic.

Nick Brannigan: Precisely.

Caryn Hartglass: And when genetically modified foods were coming out and companies like Monsanto were promoting them, one of the things that they kept saying was that it was going to reduce, like you said, the use of pesticides. And this was supposed to be a great thing for the environment, but ultimately we’re using more toxic chemicals in the form of herbicides.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah, even the number I saw was something like a 98% increase in spraying of herbicides, and it just shows you the PR of these companies is they just don’t use that word “herbicides.” So what they’re saying may be true, but it’s like I said, that’s a spin too because you’re—because the plants, the cotton and the corn, produce their own pesticide, we’re eating concentrated levels of it now.

Caryn Hartglass: So let’s talk about that now. So there’s another kind of genetically modified organism that enables the plant to produce what’s normally a natural pesticide in the plant, in their own structure.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah, what it’s called is Bt toxin. It’s made from a bacteria that is naturally occurring and was sprayed on organic crops. So what they did is they took this bacteria gene and they inserted it into the genes of corn and cotton, which are the main two Bt crops. So now these corns produce their own pesticide, their own Bt toxin, in concentrated levels. So the spraying has gone down but now if you’re eating a Bt corn, you’re eating a concentrated level of the Bt toxin that you’re not washing off. It’s in the cells of the plant.

Caryn Hartglass: So the Bt toxin also goes can go into the ground from the part of the plant that is harvested. There are bugs and small animals that might nibble on some of them and be affected by it too, and so there’s just more of this Bt around. And they will tell you that it’s not toxic, but the levels are increasing, and certainly when we eat the food, the levels that we consume are a lot more than they were before.

Nick Brannigan: Well this variety of corn too—and this is something really important, if you haven’t heard this it may shock you—that this variety of corn is actually a registered pesticide through the Environmental Protection Agency. So if you’re eating this genetically modified corn, you are eating what EPA considers a pesticide.

Caryn Hartglass: Wow.

Nick Brannigan: Yup. It’s pretty mind-blowing, isn’t it? And there’s another issue with this—what they’re calling super bugs—is that bugs that are eating this Bt corn and Bt cotton, the insecticide splits their stomach open. But there’s a small percentage of these insects that are immune to it. So as all the other insects die off, there’s these insects that are immune to it, and they’re mating and reproducing. So now all the insects in the area are “super bugs,” and that’s all there is. They’re eating the crops and they’re not dying from it.

Caryn Hartglass: Just like there are super weeds, there are super bugs.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah, so the so-called benefit of both of these genetically modified crops are showing that eventually it’s no longer gonna benefit anybody.

Caryn Hartglass: I personally think what needs to be done, in addition to not using genetically modified seeds, is our farms need to be smaller. They’re too big, these giant anchor businesses are growing all these monocrops, and it’s such an unhealthy way to grow food. So we need to bring systems back that encourage small farmers, and then they can use organic permaculture techniques that nature provides for us, growing different plants and certain plants around other plants that inhibit pests coming around and eating the plants. A farm that’s small makes it possible for the workers and the farmers to survey the fields to see what’s going on and make manual adjustments in order to protect the crops. And this is all doable on a small scale. We need to bring that back. And it’s happening in small pockets here and there.

Nick Brannigan: This was how food was harvested for thousands of years. This whole pesticide industry has only been around, I believe, sixty or so years.

Caryn Hartglass: Pretty much it’s after World War II.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah, yeah, since World War II. So we look at this like it’s the only way to do things. But food’s been around for what, how long, longer than humans, is that safe to say?

Caryn Hartglass: Sure.

Nick Brannigan: So there’s no way that this has been done for thousands and thousands of years. And sixty or so years compared to a millennium, I think you may have a better option than what we’re doing now because that option was used long before this is now.

Caryn Hartglass: Well part of the challenge is that there are more humans on earth than ever before—seven billion—and how do you fed all of those people?

Nick Brannigan: Not through genetic modification. That’s a talking point. People call them GMs, I call them talking points and so they are. They’ve been saying they’re number one, GMOs will feed the world. Well, we’ve been genetically modifying crops for twenty years. There are still starving people around. When are they actually going to feed the world? They’re not, because that’s just something they say and people hear that and they’re like, “Oh, that sounds reasonable, GMOs feed the world, okay that’s fine,” without doing further research on it.

Caryn Hartglass: Well there are some really horrible stories that have happened around the world: India, for example, and some other countries, where farmers have used genetically modified feed and the yields have been terrible. And they’ve had a lot of debt that they weren’t able to pay off and as a result committed suicide. There’s been a lot of that.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah, I believe there’s actually a documentary coming out on that issue. It’s something that I haven’t looked into too much because it’s a very hard issue to look into. But there’s a documentary that’s not out already coming out soon that’s regarding the suicides of the Indian farmers.

Caryn Hartglass: I saw one a few years ago that Vandana Shiva was involved with on that subject, and of course I can’t think of the name at this moment, but it was very difficult to watch. The stories were really…just, really frustrating and upsetting, where people really put their heart and soul into what they’re doing, and things that… All they wanted to do was improve their yields and maybe profit a little more to benefit their families, and what happened was things just became so dramatically worse.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah, ‘cause what they do is they put a patent on these seeds, the biotech companies, so they actually own the seeds. So if the farmer plants the seed, he’s not allowed to save the seed, and if he does, then he’s going on patent infringement, and Monsanto has sued dozens, or maybe—excuse me—hundreds of farmers over the years for using their patented seeds. And there’s actually a court case right now going on in New York City where these farmers are suing back, saying you shouldn’t be able to patent these seeds, and if you do, you shouldn’t be able to sue farmers for your transgenic DNA getting into our crops.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s good news. I’m glad to hear there’s a suit in New York going on.

Nick Brannigan: Yeah, don’t know the result of it yet. It’s been going on for—I believe it started at the end of last month, so it’s still pretty new. But it’s one major step to go at least in the right direction for the protection of the farmers.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so how do you avoid genetically modified food?

Nick Brannigan: Well the first is to know the ingredients. Not just the corn, finola, cotton, soy and beet sugar, but all the derivatives too. A lot of the stuff in any packaged foods usually come from corn or soy, like MSG, xanath gum, sucrose, fructose. So if you can do a Web search, find out all those ingredients. Also too, know honey that’s not organic, again the animal products that are non-organic should be avoided. You look for the non-GMO verified label and buy organic. Your best bet is making a transition over to mostly whole foods. ‘Cause very few actual whole foods have been genetically modified. So when you start—kind of take the process of cook for yourself—and go through the whole process of getting away from packaged food is the best way to avoid GMOs. I also recommend supporting any local organic or non-GMO cafés in your area. Again, going to the small farms, where I live in Las Vegas, there’s actually a handful of organic farms, and they have a CSA program, which is community-supported agriculture, where they actually bring you vegetables every week. And obviously they don’t do anything genetically modified. Those are just the ways to start. I’ll recommend too, if you live in California, for the labeling campaign going on there right now. They’re gonna start collecting signatures in mid-February to mid-April, and if they get roughly 800,000, they’re going to be on the ballot in November to label GMO foods in California.

Caryn Hartglass: Who’s behind this? Do you know what group is behind this?

Nick Brannigan: Yeah, the website is labelgmos.org. The group is called the California Right to Know Committee. They’ve been supported by some companies, like Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and Nature’s Tavern Organic Cereals. And also, their other website is carighttoknow.org, so if you live in California and you can volunteer for the campaign or if you just want to know where you can sign your name to get GMOs labeled, that’s one of the best things we can do right now, because once the FDA—they have to be labeled in California—these companies are gonna put them on all their packages and they’re probably just gonna remove them from their products because they know the consumers aren’t gonna want to buy something that says “genetically modified” on it.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I’m not exactly sure how that’ll work from a federal versus state level, but I’m glad that it’s happening, and it should prove very interesting. But the best that we can do is support what we believe in with our dollars, and even though some foods may be tempting to buy because they’re less expensive or they look really nice, they could secretly have things in it that you don’t want to put in your body and your family’s bodies, so genetically modified food is not, not, not the way to go.

Nick Brannigan: Yes, not at all. In my book, there’s ten solutions in here. And I would recommend anyone that reads it, take these solutions. It’s kinda incrementally implement them into your life.

Caryn Hartglass: Where can people get it?

Nick Brannigan: It’s imeatingwhat.com.

Caryn Hartglass: Great. Nick, thank you so much and thank you for doing all that you’re doing. It takes individuals to make change, and you’re doing your part.

Nick Brannigan: Thanks Caryn, I appreciate you having me on today.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thanks for joining me and take care. I’m Caryn Hartglass, you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. And join me next week—we’re going to be talking with Molly Phemister the founder of eatcology.com. She’ll be talking a lot about ecology and food. Thanks so much for listening! Take care. Have a delicious week.

Transcribed 3/12/2013

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