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Genome Editing Pioneer Violated Biosafety Rules

Organic consumers - Thu, 2020-09-17 19:31
September 17, 2020Independent Science NewsEdward Hammond, Prickly Research danvoytas1200x630.jpg

Official documents reveal that Daniel Voytas, a professor at the University of Minnesota and the co-inventor of the genome editing tool TALENs, has been found to have violated basic laboratory biosafety rules for a period of more than two years.

Unapproved and unsupervised genetic engineering in the Voytas lab appears to have included the development of a new commercial technique for rapid production of gene edited plants called Fast-Treated Agrobacterium Co-Culture, or “Fast-TrACC”.  The patent-pending technique has been licensed by the University of Minnesota to Calyxt, a controversial biotechnology company co-founded by Voytas and where he serves as Chief Science Officer.

The story is one of a research train wreck. It involves an ethically dubious and physically dangerous mix of blatant disregard for biosafety rules with the apparent legalized corruption of financial self-dealing, with the approval and participation of the University of Minnesota.

The Violations

Without seeking or obtaining required safety approvals, Voytas and eight members of his lab genetically engineered a dozen species of plants in a project that lasted from October 2017 through December 2019, The University of Minnesota institutional biosafety committee (IBC) and the University’s biosafety office were unaware of the experiments, which appear to have come to light only when Voytas filed for patent on part of the research and prepared a manuscript for publication.

The project, many details of which have yet to be released, was discovered by the IBC’s Assistant Director in December 2019.  By that time, according to an incident report filed with the US federal government, the Voytas team had engineered twelve plant species, including a number of food crops.

Two widely cultivated species of peppers (Capsicum) were altered, along with tomatoes, potatoes, grapes, and sunflower.  Other species genetically engineered without oversight included the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana as well as Moricandia arvensis, a wild crucifer of interest as a potential source of photosynthesis genes for the large family of brassica crops, including rapeseed (canola) and vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, pak choi, and turnips.

The Voytas lab also transformed other plants without the required approval, including plants with medicinal uses such as Nicotiana benthamiana, an Australian relative of cultivated tobacco, sweet briar (Rosa rubiginosa), periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), and petunias (Petunia axillaris).

A request for further information was lodged with the University of Minnesota in early September.  The University has yet to reply.

A member of the US National Academies of Science, Voytas rose to prominence as co-inventor of transcription activator-like effector nucleases, or TALENs, which are used as the “scissors” to cut DNA sequences in many genome editing projects.

Fake Oversight

Voytas’ case is a concrete demonstration of the weakness of genetic engineering oversight in the United States. The project operated with nine people working over a period of more than two years at a prominent lab on a university campus without being detected and without biosafety approval.

On 30 January 2020, the University belatedly reported the over two year old violations that it had belatedly discovered – apparently more than a month earlier – to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), which oversees genetic engineering laboratory safety in the US. When the University did so, it omitted basic details about the violations described in its report. Minnesota merely stated the name of the Agrobacterium vector used to transform the plants and the species of plants engineered. It did not describe the purpose of the research and “payload” of the vector, nor the characteristics of the resulting cells and plants. Hence, the University’s report was fundamentally opaque with respect to the substance of the offending research.

Inexplicably, and alarmingly, on receiving Minnesota’s report, NIH did not bother to ask Minnesota for basic information about the nature of the genetic engineering performed on the plants. Rather, NIH declared itself satisfied with the University’s vacuous report and closed the case with no action on the following day, 31 January 2020.

While shocking, the NIH “regulators” lack of interest in investigating major violations is regrettably typical. Indeed it is extremely rare for NIH to express concern or interest in further details of those laboratory accidents of which it learns. Further, there is no indication that the US Department of Agriculture, whose interest in improper creation of genetically engineered crops should be significant, was informed of the problems.  A second request for further information on this subject is pending with the University of Minnesota.

Calyxt Connection

In a bit of self-dealing not uncommon at American research universities, the Voytas lab at the University of Minnesota works in support of the company Calyxt, which Voytas co-founded and where he is the Chief Science Officer. Research at Voytas’ university lab is licensed to Calyxt, whose stock is publicly traded, though it is controlled by the French company Cellectis.

In addition to his University and Calyxt salaries (1), Voytas receives stock options from Calyxt. At the time of his last regulatory filing in early 2019, he owned almost 100,000 shares in Calyxt and held options for over 200,000 more. At the time they were worth nearly US $5m, though the company’s stock has since fallen.  More stock options will vest with Voytas in the future.

In April 2020, the University and Calyxt announced a new licensing deal, the financial terms of which were not described. The license is for a technology, developed by the Voytas lab, that is described as “plant gene editing through de novo induction of meristems”, another name for Fast-TrACC.

The manuscript of the article describing the technique was submitted in December 2019, the same month when the Minnesota IBC says it discovered the unauthorized research (Maher et al., 2020). The manuscript describes use of genetically engineered cells to cause the growth of plant meristems (shoots and root branches) that are also genetically engineered.  Material from the meristem growth can then be used to generate plants that are wholly transformed.  It describes experiments as using an agrobacterium vector with Arabidopsis, potato, and grapevine, all of which are mentioned in the University’s report of unapproved and unsupervised research.

The initial commercial application of the technique appears to be in scaling up production of gene edited varieties of crops that are clonally propagated, hence the selection of potato and grapevine as examples.  A great many other crops are also clonally propagated, including many fruit and nut trees, berries, onions, garlic, taro, agave, dates, pineapple, hops, yams, cassava, bananas, olives, sugarcane, gingers, and more.

The manuscript notes that three of the authors, including Voytas, have filed for patents on the technology.

It thus appears that the unapproved and unsupervised research at the Voytas lab included the creation of the technology Minnesota has licensed, and perhaps other gene editing projects that have yet to come to public light but which may also be related to the commercial enterprises of Calyxt.

Rot and Responsibility

What went wrong at the Voytas lab? Does the University or the federal government care? Until the University comes forward with additional information, it is hard to precisely know.  One thing that does seem clear is that there were no serious consequences for the violations, a fact that will encourage more rogue gene editing at US universities.

Was Voytas’ operation too important to be properly inspected by biosafety staff, who might fear the wrath of the prominent professor, or perhaps also the wrath of the University’s technology transfer office and its profit-driven mission?  Was there active concealment of research from safety oversight? That would be grounds for major enforcement action. Or maybe the University of Minnesota’s biosafety oversight program is, like its national counterpart, weak and ineffective?

The lack of detail in Minnesota’s report to NIH suggests that Voytas’, and the University’s, financial interests may be at the heart of the incident. Why is the relevant detail unreported?  How can NIH close the file – in under 24 hours – on a serious violation that isn’t even properly documented?  Secrecy related to patents and profits appears to be at work, and to be working against safety.

Yet the report also claims that Voytas and his staff were fully up to date on biosafety training – except that they ignored the elementary and obligatory step of submitting a proposal for their activities, obtaining approval and having the experiments inspected.  Why did they fail to submit to safety oversight despite this training?

So what happened when the unapproved work was discovered?  Although the Voytas lab’s biosafety violations were lengthy and large, according to the information obtained to date, the only action taken was to stop the research for a few weeks, until the IBC could approve it, and a recommendation being made that Voytas lab members be “re-trained”.

It does not appear that there were any significant consequences for Voytas, nor did the lack of adherence to biosafety rules result in any federal sanction of the University.  To the contrary, NIH immediately closed the case and, in April 2020, Calytx enthusiastically announced the deal it cut with the University to license the arguably illicitly-developed technology. 

The message that the federal government and University of Minnesota are sending to researchers is that violating biosafety rules is a trivial matter that will not result in significant consequences.  Even for violations of very basic requirements that go on for years on end. Indeed, if violation has no consequences, for researchers like Voytas who are seeking patents and are deeply involved in profitable self-dealings, the lack of consequences of ignoring biosafety rules only encourages further violations, as the secrecy granted by working outside of biosafety oversight may aid in hiding from competitors and generating profits.

(1) Voytas earns US $198,000 a year as a professor plus, presumably, royalty income in conjunction the licenses that the University sells to Calyxt and others for technologies from his lab.  His salary as CSO of Calyxt is unknown.

References

Maher MF et al 2020. Plant gene editing through de novo induction of meristems. Nat Biotechnol. 2020 Jan; 38(1): 84–89.

This article was originally published by the Third World Network.

Bayer Inks Deals With Three Roundup Cancer Law Firms as Settlement Progresses

Organic consumers - Wed, 2020-09-16 18:11
September 15, 2020U.S. Right to KnowCarey GillamGenetic Engineering, Health Issues ruink_1200x630.png

Bayer AG has reached final settlement terms with three major law firms representing thousands of plaintiffs who claim exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The new deals have been  made with California-based Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman law firm; the Andrus Wagstaff firm from Colorado; and the Moore Law Group of Kentucky. The firms each filed notification of the deals with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Monday.

The deals come after allegations by the three law firms that Bayer was reneging on terms of agreements already made months earlier. The firms told the court Monday that they each now have a “fully-executed and binding Master Settlement Agreement with Monsanto.”

Notably, the deals mark a critical step toward bringing closure to the five-year-old mass tort litigation that now tallies more than 100,000 claims brought by people from around the United States who used Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides made by Monsanto before they developed cancer.

Bayer bought Monsanto in 2018 just as the first Roundup cancer trial was getting underway. It has since lost all three of the three trials held to date and has lost the early rounds of appeals seeking to overturn the trial losses. Juries in each of the trials found that Monsanto’s herbicides do cause cancer and that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

The jury awards totaled well over $2 billion, though the judgments have been ordered reduced by trial and appellate court judges.

Bayer had threatened to file for bankruptcy if no nationwide settlement was reached, according to communications from the plaintiffs’ firms to their clients.

Bayer announced in June that it had reached a $10 billion settlement with U.S. law firms to resolve most of more than 100,000 Roundup cancer claims. But at that time only two of the major law firms in the sweeping litigation had final signed agreements with Bayer – The Miller Firm and Weitz & Luxenburg, according to sources close to the negotiations. The Baum firm, the Andrus Wagstaff firm and the Moore firm had memorandums of understanding but not final agreements, sources said.

The company’s efforts to resolve the litigation have been stymied in part by the challenge of how to head off claims that could be brought in the future by people who develop cancer after using the company’s herbicides. Bayer tried to get court approval for a plan that would have delayed the filing of new Roundup cancer cases for four years, and would have established a five-member “science panel” to determine whether Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and if so, at what minimum exposure levels.  If the panel determined there was no causal connection between Roundup and non-Hodgkin lymphoma then the class members would be barred from future such claims.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria rejected the plan, sending Bayer back to the drawing board.

Bayer had said Thursday that it was making progress in the development of a “revised” plan to resolve potential future Roundup litigation. The details of the revised class plan will be finalized over the coming weeks, according to Bayer.

Several plaintiffs have been unhappy with the settlement, saying they will not receive very much money despite years of expensive cancer treatments and ongoing pain and suffering. Indeed, many plaintiffs have died while waiting for a resolution.

On September 9, lawyers for Marie Bernice Dinner and her husband Bruce Dinner filed notice with the court that 73-year-old Marie died on June 2 from the non-Hodgkin lymphoma she and her husband alleged was caused by her exposure to Monsanto’s weed killers.

Lawyers for Bruce Dinner asked the court to allow them to amend the complaint against Monsanto to add a claim for wrongful death. The couple was married 53 years and have two children and four grandchildren.

“Marie Bernice was an extraordinary person.  Her death should have been prevented,” said lawyer Beth Klein, who is representing the family.

Posted with permission from U.S. Right to Know.

Introduction to 'Corona, False Alarm?: Fact and Figures'

Organic consumers - Tue, 2020-09-15 20:58
September 15, 2020Chelsea GreenDr. Karina Reiss and Dr. Sucharit BhakdiHealth Issues corona_false_alarm_1200x630.jpg

The first months of the year 2020 were characterised worldwide by a single nightmare: Corona. Dreadful images took wing from China, then from Italy, followed by other countries. Projections on how many countless deaths would occur were coupled with pictures of panic buying and empty supermarket shelves. The media in everyday life was driven by Corona, morning, noon and night for weeks on end.

Draconian quarantine measures were established all over the world. When you stepped outside, you found yourself in a surreal world – not a soul to be seen, but instead empty streets, empty cities, empty beaches. Civil rights were restricted as never before since the end of the Second World War. The collapse of social life and the economy were generally accepted as being inevitable.

Was the country under threat of such a dreadful danger to justify these measures? Had the benefits that could possibly be gained by these measures been adequately weighed against the subsequent collateral damage that might also be expected? Is the current plan to develop a global vaccination programme realistic and scientifically sound?

Our original book was written for the public in our country and this translated version is tilted toward the German narrative. However, global developments have advanced along similar lines, so that the basic arguments hold. We have replaced a number of local events in favour of pressing new issues regarding the question of immunity and the postulated need for development of vaccines against the virus.

The intent of this book is to provide readers with facts and background information, so that they will be able to arrive at their own conclusions. Statements in the book should be regarded as the authors’ opinions that we submit for your scrutiny. Criticism and dissent are welcome. In scientific discussions, postulation of any thesis should also invite antitheses, so that finally the synthesis may resolve potential disagreement and enable us to advance in the interest of mankind. We do not expect all readers to share our points of view. But we do hope to ignite an open and much needed discussion, to the benefit of all citizens of this deeply troubled world.

How everything started

In December of 2019, a large number of respiratory illnesses were recorded in Wuhan, a city with about 10 million inhabitants. The patients were found to be infected with a novel coronavirus, which was later given the name SARS-CoV-2. The respiratory disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 was designated COVID-19. In China, the outbreak evolved into an epidemic in January 2020, rapidly spreading around the globe.1,2,3

Coronaviruses: the basics

Coronaviruses co-exist with humans and animals worldwide, and continuously undergo genetic mutation so that countless variants are generated.4,5 “Normal” coronaviruses are responsible for 10–20% of respiratory infections and generate symptoms of the common cold. Many infected individuals real course, particularly in patients with pre-existing illnesses, especially of heart and lung. Thus, even “harmless” coronaviruses can be associated with case fatality rates of 8%main asymptomatic.6 Others experience mild symptoms such as unproductive cough, whilst some additionally develop fever and joint pains. Severe illness occurs mainly in the elderly and can take a fat when they gain entry to nursing homes.7 Still, due to their marginal clinical significance, costly measures for diagnosing coronavirus infections are seldom undertaken, searches for antiviral agents have not been prioritised, and vaccine development has not been subject to serious discussion.

Only two members of the coronavirus family reached world headlines in the past.

SARS virus (official name: SARS-CoV) entered the stage in 2003. This variant caused severe respiratory illness with a high fatality rate of approximately 10%.

Fortunately, the virus turned out not to be highly contagious, and its spread could be contained by conventional isolation measures. Only 774 deaths were registered worldwide.8,9 Despite this manageable danger, fear of SARS led to a worldwide economic loss of 40 billion US dollars.8 Coronaviruses subsequently faded into the background. A new variant, MERS-CoV, emerged in the Middle East in 2012 and caused life-threatening disease with an even higher fatality rate of more than 30%. But contagiousness of the virus was also low and the epidemic was rapidly brought under control.10

China: the dread threat emerges

When the news came from China that a new coronavirus family member had appeared on stage, the most pressing question was: would it be harmless like its “normal” relatives or would it be SARS-like and highly dangerous? Or worse still: highly dangerous and highly contagious?

First reports and disturbing scenes from China caused the worst to be feared. The virus spread rapidly and with apparent deadly efficacy. China resorted to drastic measures. Wuhan and five other cities were encircled by the army and completely isolated from the outside world.

At the end of the epidemic, official statistics reported about 83,000 infected people and fewer than 5,000 fatalities,11 an infinitesimally small number in a country with 1.4 billion inhabitants. Either the lockdown worked or the new virus was not so dangerous after all. Whatever the case, China became the shining example on how we could overcome SARS-CoV-2.

More disturbing news then came from northern Italy. Striking swiftly, the virus left countless dead in its wake. Media coverage likened the situation to “war-like conditions.”12 What was not reported was that in other parts of Italy, and also in most other countries, the “fatality rate” of COVID-19 was considerably lower.13,14

Could it be that the intrinsic deadliness of one and the same virus varied, depending on the country and region it invaded? Not very likely, it seemed.

References:

1. “Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Weekly Epidemiological Update and Weekly Operational Update,” World Health Organization, last accessed August 26, 2020, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports.

2. Chih-Cheng Lai et al., “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19): The Epidemic and the Challenges,” International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents 55, no. 3 (March 2020): 105924, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2020.105924.

3. Catrin Sohrabi et al., “World Health Organization Declares Global Emergency: A Review of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19),” International Journal of Surgery 76 (April 2020): 71–76, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijsu.2020.02.034.

4. Shuo Su et al., “Epidemiology, Genetic Recombination, and Pathogenesis of Coronaviruses,” Trends in Microbiology 24, no. 6 (June 2016): 490–502, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tim.2016.03.003.

5. Jie Cui, Fang Li, and Zheng-Li Shi, “Origin and Evolution of Pathogenic Coronaviruses,” Nature Reviews Microbiology 17 (2019): 181–92, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41579-018-0118-9.

6. Yanis Roussel et al., “SARS-CoV-2: Fear Versus Data,” International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents 55, no. 5 (May 2020): 105947, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2020.105947.

7. David M. Patrick et al., “An Outbreak of Human Coronavirus OC43 Infection and Serological Cross-Reactivity with SARS Coronavirus,” Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology 17, no. 6 (November–December 2006): 330–36, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles /PMC2095096.

8. Kelvin K. W. To et al., “From SARS to Coronavirus to Novel Animal and Human Coronaviruses,” Journal of Thoracic Disease 5, no. S2 (August 2013): S103–8, http://doi.org/10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2013.06.02.

9. “SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome),” National Health Service (UK), last reviewed October 24, 2019, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sars.

10. “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV),” World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/emergencies /mers-cov/en.

11. “COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic,” Worldometer, https://www .worldometers.info/coronavirus.

12. Benjamin Reuter, “Coronavirus lässt in Italien Ärzte verzweifeln—Entscheidungen wie in Kriegszeiten,” Der Tagesspiegel (Berlin), March 12, 2020, https://www.tagesspiegel.de/wissen/drohen-in-deutschlanditalienische-verhaeltnisse-coronavirus-laesst-in-italienaerzteverzweifeln-entscheidungen-wie-in-kriegszeiten/25632790.html.

13. Ciro Indolfi and Carmen Spaccarotella, “The Outbreak of COVID-19 in Italy: Fighting the Pandemic,” JACC: Case Reports 2, no. 9 (July 2020): 1414–18, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaccas.2020.03.012.

14. Max Roser et al., “Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19),” Our World in Data, last updated August 26, 2020, https://ourworld indata.org/mortality-risk-covid.

15. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Situation Report—61,” World Health Organization, March 20, 2020, https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200321-sitrep-61-covid-19.pdf.

 

Karina Reiss, Ph.D, was born in Germany and studied biology at the University of Kiel where she received her PhD in 2001, and became an associate professor there in 2008. She has published over sixty articles in the fields of cell biology, biochemistry, inflammation, and infection, which have gained international recognition and received prestigious honors and awards.

 

Sucharit Bhakdi, M.D., served as chair of Medical Microbiology at the University of Mainz in Germany from 1990 to 2012. He has published over three hundred articles in the fields of immunobiology, bacteriology, virology, and parasitology, for which he has received numerous awards and the Order of Merit of Rhineland-Palatinate.

 

Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Chelsea Green Publishing. Click here to buy the book.

In a moment, I’ll tell you why.

Organic consumers - Tue, 2020-09-15 19:12
September 15, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationRonnie Cumminshttps://donate.organicconsumers.org/page/18165/donate/1 donate_click_button_heart_1200x630.jpg

We must do more than sit by and wait. We must act.

I’m going to ask for your help. In a moment, I’ll tell you why. 

But first, we at OCA hope that you and your family are safe and well. 

Safe from the west coast wildfires and Atlantic and Gulf Coast hurricanes.

Safe from major health concerns, daunting financial worries, crushing injustices. 

These are challenging, indeed frightening times. 

For millions of people. For the future of our democracy. For the survival of our common home.

But this is no time to give up. That’s why I’m asking for your support today, so we can step up our education and advocacy work in these critical times. Can you make a donation today? Click here to donate online, by mail or by phone.

If I had to single out one common thread running through the multiple crises we face today, it would be corporate greed.

Greedy Big Food and Big Ag corporations have exploited “essential” workers, poisoned our water, destroyed the nutrients in our soil along with the soil’s capacity to store carbon, made us obese, yet undernourished—and left us highly vulnerable to illness, including COVID-19.

Greedy Big Oil (along with Big Ag) have fueled a dire climate emergency.

Greedy Big Pharma can’t wait to push the next pill—or vaccine—on people whose health has been compromised by the processed junk food industry.

Greedy Big Advertising and Big Media collude with Big Business to promote false narratives over facts.

Meanwhile, greedy politicians line up to grab their corporate donations in exchange for selling out the public’s best interests.

Where does that leave you? Where does it leave us . . . and the generations to come?

It leaves us to expose the greed and corruption, for all to see.

It leaves us to educate millions of people about what’s really going on—and what each of us can do to help turn things around.

It leaves us to bring the stories of resistance and hope and resilience directly to you, the people, so we can inspire millions more stories just like them—and build the largest mass movement in history.

If it’s true that the darkest hour is just before the dawn, surely dawn is right around the corner.

But we must do more than sit by and wait. We must act.

We depend on you for nearly 80% of our budget. If you can, please make a generous donation today.

 

 

Tell Members of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee: Americans Deserve Dietary Guidelines Based on the Latest, Most Rigorous Independent Science!

Organic consumers - Thu, 2020-09-03 15:54
Belong to campaign: Appetite for a ChangeArea: USA

The typical American diet of processed junk food, factory farm meat and nutrient-deficient, pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables is killing us. Literally.

Yet thanks to corporate lobbyists, our taxpayer-funded government agencies are about to, once again, hand down federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA)  that will keep corporations happy—while keeping millions of people, including the most vulnerable, unhealthy.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Members of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee: Americans deserve dietary guidelines based on the latest, most rigorous independent science.Read more

Peter ‘Show Me the Money’ Daszak Pulls in Big Bucks, through EcoHealth Alliance, for Risky Virus ‘Research’

Organic consumers - Thu, 2020-09-03 14:32
September 3, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationAlexis Baden-MayerHealth Issues daszak-1200.png

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth article in our ‘Gain-of-Function Hall of Shame’ series  profiling key players in gain-of-function research.

Peter Daszak, President of EcoHealth Alliance, is a top scientific collaborator, grantwriter and spokesperson for virus hunters and gain-of-function/dual-use researchers, in labs both military and civilian.

Daszak works with dozens of high-containment laboratories around the world that collect pathogens and use genetic engineering and synthetic biology to make them more infectious, contagious, lethal or drug-resistant. These include labs controlled by the U.S. Department of Defense, in countries in the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, South East Asia and Africa.

Many of these labs are staffed by former biological weapons scientists. (See Arms Watch’s reports.)

Before the Biological Weapons Convention was ratified, this research was called what it is: biological weapons research. Now, it’s euphemistically called gain-of-function or dual-use research.

Gain-of-function research to alter coronaviruses for the infection of humans goes back to 1999 or earlier, years before the first novel coronavirus outbreak. 

On behalf of the U.S. government, often the military, Daszak scours the globe for animal pathogens and brings them back to the lab to be catalogued, investigated and manipulated. 

Daszak and others justify their research this way: If/When an outbreak of a new virus occurs, they can compare it to the ones in their labs, and maybe glean how the novel virus emerged. A recent Wired magazine article quoting Daszak described how a virus collected in 2012 was found to be a 96-percent match to SARS-CoV-2 in 2020:

“The search for the source of SARS – which killed more than 770 people two decades ago – has given us a headstart for the current hunt. Wearing hazmat suits and equipped with mist nets, a team from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, together with the ecologist and president of EcoHealth Alliance Peter Daszak, ventured into limestone caves to collect faeces and blood samples from thousands of roosting bats before testing them for novel coronaviruses in the lab. ‘At the time, we were looking for SARS-related viruses, and this one was 20 percent different,’ says Daszak. ‘We thought it’s interesting, but not high-risk. So we didn’t do anything about it and put it in the freezer.’ The group has found around 500 bat-borne viruses in China over the last 16 years, but only flagged those that most resembled SARS to the authorities – a lack of funding meant they couldn’t further investigate the virus strain now known to be 96 percent genetically similar to the virus that causes Covid-19.”

Interesting though that story is, it fails to explain how SARS-CoV-2 evolved. Some scientists say it would take 50 years for RaTG13 to turn into SARS-CoV-2. Others propose theories on how the virus might have evolved so quickly, yet still suspect that it escaped from the Wuhan lab.

Certainly, to learn that the closest known relative to SARS-CoV-2 has been in the care of the gain-of-function researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) for seven years does nothing to allay suspicions that the virus infected humans only after being tinkered with in a lab. 

Still, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is going all-in on virus hunting. The institute just announced a five-year, $82-million investment in a new global network of Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases, including gain-of-function experiments to “determine what genetic or other changes make [animal] pathogens capable of infecting humans.”

Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance will receive $7.5 million from this grant. This is on top of $100.9 million that EcoHealth Alliance has received in government grants and contracts since 2003. (What was that Daszak said about how “a lack of funding meant they couldn’t further investigate the virus strain now known to be 96-percent genetically similar to the virus that causes Covid-19”)?

Critics of virus hunting say scientists like Daszak could make a greater contribution to human health by going after the viruses that commonly infect humans, not the ones that never have. According to a 2018 Smithsonian Magazine report:

“Not everyone thinks that discovering viruses and their hotspots is the best way to prevent pandemics. Dr. Robert B. Tesh, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, says we don't understand enough about zoonotic viruses to create predictive models. ‘A lot of the stuff they produce is hype. … It's more PR than science.’”

Daszak’s research might be more hype and public relations than science, but the Department of Homeland Security’s National Biosurveillance Integration Center (NBIC) has chosen to rely on it. NBIC gave Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance a $2.2-million contract (2016-2019) to create a “Ground Truth Network” of “subject matter experts” who could provide “contextual information pertaining to biological events.”

The context Daszak invariably provides is a compelling one. Destruction of forests and other encroachments on wildlife habitats, especially the hunting of wild animals and the sale of live animals in wet markets, is  forcing humans and animals into uncomfortable proximity. This is bad for vulnerable and endangered species, as well as for humans who are at increasing risk for contracting novel zoonotic diseases.

Who isn’t shocked and appalled to learn that people eat bats, or that marvelously strange and adorable animals you’ve never heard of―pangolins, civet cats―have had their habitats destroyed and are now being sold for meat at live animal markets?

Daszak’s framing of the issue―what has come to be known as the One Health approach―has been heartily embraced by the U.S. military.

But what if the stories being spun by Daszak and his fellow government-supported subject matter experts aren’t supported by the evidence?

Let’s look at EcoHealth Alliance’s story about Ebola and bushmeat.

False narrative, tragic outcomes

From 2011 to 2014, Ecohealth Alliance had a $164,480 purchase order contract from the Centers for Disease Control in Pittsburgh for “Bushmeat.” No more information than that is available on that contract (HHSD2002011M41641P), but the money likely funded a paper Daszak and his colleagues published in 2012.

The 2012 paper, “Zoonotic Viruses Associated with Illegally Imported Wildlife Products,” was used in August 2014, at the height of the West African Ebola pandemic, as the basis for a Newsweek article titled, “Smuggled Bushmeat Is Ebola’s Back Door to America.” 

The article, which quoted an EcoHealth Alliance spokesperson, spread a false (not to mention racist and xenophobic) narrative, one that subsequently would be thoroughly debunked, that bushmeat smuggled to the U.S. from Africa could transmit Ebola to Americans. 

In January 2015, a meeting of the UK Bushmeat Working Group convened. The group countered Daszak’s misinformation with the facts, in an article titled, “Ebola and Bushmeat: Myth and Reality.” The article stated:

“As the Ebola virus can remain viable in untreated carcasses for up to 3-4 days, there is a risk of transporting it to bushmeat markets (although there is no evidence of this to date). However, the risk of transmitting Ebola in bushmeat overseas to Europe or the USA is extremely low, given the  total  travel  time  and  the  fact  that  these  carcasses  are  usually  smoked  (which probably inactivates the virus). The risk of spread to new areas lies with the movement of infected people, not infected meat.”

Tragically, the misinformation about bushmeat as a primary cause of Ebola transmission had already been communicated to West Africans in the midst of the crisis, through international health organizations, including Daszak’s funder, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Daszak’s misinformation campaign overshadowed the truth—that the only way Ebola was actually being transmitted during the pandemic was via contact with the bodily fluids of people sick with Ebola, or with their corpses.

Perpetuating mythical theories

The SARS pandemic is another instance where Daszak’s theories didn’t pan out. 

It is commonly accepted that the SARS pandemic began in 2002, when humans caught a bat virus from civet cats at a wet market in Guangdong, China. But Daszak and his collaborators admit they have no evidence to explain how the virus leapt from bats to civets to humans. 

SARS-CoV was found in civets at the Guangdong wet market, but civets aren’t the natural reservoir of this virus. Bats are. Only the civets at the market—and no farm-raised or wild civets—carried the virus. None of the animal traders handling the civets at the market had SARS.

When Daszak and his collaborators at the WIV searched the cave in Yunnan for strains of coronavirus similar to human versions, no single bat actually had SARS. Genetic pieces of the various strains would have to be recombined to make up the human version. Adding to the confusion, Yunnan is about 1,000 kilometers from Guangdong. 

So, how did viruses from bats in Yunnan combine to become deadly to humans, and then travel to civets and people in Guangdong, without causing any illnesses along the way during this 1,000 kilometer trip? 

No one knows. Just like no one knows how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, leapt from bats to pangolins to humans. 

(The most recent study, "Broad host range of SARS-CoV-2 predicted by comparative and structural analysis of ACE2 in vertebrates" in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that the SARS-CoV-2, which infects human cells through binding of the viral Spike protein to ACE2, has a “very high” binding affinity to ACE2 in "Old World" monkeys apes, and humans. But in bats, the binding affinity is “low” and in pangolins it is “very low.” The authors also noted that “neither experimental infection nor in vitro infection with SARS-CoV-2 has been reported for pangolins.”)

Daszak continues to tell his bat-origin story, but the science doesn’t back it up. 

That―along with the fact that dozens of labs conduct “gain-of-function” research on bat coronaviruses and there are troubling safety issues at these labs―is why the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is investigating the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from a lab.

Inquiring minds at the NIH want to know . . . 

On July 8, the NIH sent a letter to Daszak asking EcoHealth Alliance to arrange for an inspection of the WIV by an outside team that would examine the facility’s lab and records “with specific attention to addressing the question of whether WIV staff had SARS-CoV-2 in their possession prior to December 2019.” 

The WIV and the Wuhan University School of Public Health are listed as subcontractors for EcoHealth Alliance under a $3.7-million NIH grant titled, “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence.” The two institutions also worked as collaborators under another $2.6-million grant, “Risk of Viral Emergence from Bats,” and under EcoHealth Alliance’s largest single source of funding, a $44.2 million sub-grant from the University of California at Davis for the PREDICT project (2015-2020). 

It’s the $44.2-million PREDICT grant that EcoHealth Alliance used to fund the gain-of-function experiment by WIV scientist Zhengli Shi and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Ralph Baric. Shi and Baric used genetic engineering and synthetic biology to create a “new bat SARS-like virus . . . that can jump directly from its bat hosts to humans.”

Daszak described the work being done by Shi and Baric in a 2019 interview:  

“You can manipulate them [coronaviruses] in the lab pretty easily. Spike protein drives a lot of what happens with the coronavirus, zoonotic risk. So, you can get the sequence, you can build the protein, and we work with Ralph Baric at UNC to do this. Insert it into a backbone of another virus, and do some work in the lab.”

The work, "A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence," published in Nature in 2015 during the NIH’s moratorium on gain-of-function research, was grandfathered in because it was initiated before the moratorium (officially called the U.S. Government Deliberative Process Research Funding Pause on Selected Gain-of-Function Research Involving Influenza, MERS and SARS Viruses), and because the request by Shi and Baric to continue their research during the moratorium was approved by the NIH. 

As a condition of publication, Nature, like most scientific journals, requires authors to submit new DNA and RNA sequences to GenBank, the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information Database. Yet the new SARS-like virus Shi and Baric created wasn’t deposited in GenBank until May 2020. 

Why stop with Wuhan?

NIH is right to require that the WIV’s lab and records be opened to outside inspectors.

But why is the government focusing on just one of EcoHealth Alliance’s projects, when the organization has received $100.9 million in grants, primarily from the Department of Defense, to sample, store and study bat coronaviruses at labs around the world?

Coronaviruses, both those that have been collected from animals and those that have been created through genetic engineering and synthetic biology, at all of these labs should be compared with SARS-CoV-2.

Daszak’s collaborators working under contracts with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) aren’t allowed to conduct gain-of-function research unless specifically approved to do so by the Potential Pandemic Pathogen Care and Oversight (P3CO) committee. This committee was set up as a condition for lifting the 2014-2017 moratorium on gain-of-function research. 

The P3CO committee operates in secret. Not even a membership list has been released. The only information provided to the public is that Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec appointed HHS Senior Science Advisor Christian Hassell as its chair.

It’s time to open the records of the PC3O committee’s deliberations and decisions to examine all gain-of-function research on coronaviruses. And every lab manipulating these viruses should have their coronaviruses compared to SARS-CoV-2.

The Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) for its Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (now called the Biological Threat Reduction Program) isn’t supposed to fund gain-of-function (what they call “dual-use”) research at all.  It’s time to determine whether this prohibition on “dual-use” funding has been adhered to, especially in light of the investments the Pentagon is making across the globe in the construction of new laboratories for the “consolidation and securing of pathogens.”

DTRA’s mission was to dismantle the biological weapons programs of hostile or destabilized countries. Instead it is being used to develop new biological weapons programs in dozens of countries around the world. 

Even if these programs are purely defensive, they proliferate, around the globe, pathogens with pandemic potential, even though it’s been difficult to keep these dangerous germs under control here in the U.S. (See “The Global Proliferation of High-Containment Biological Laboratories: Understanding the Phenomenon and Its Implications,” and the Government Accountability Office’s reports, “Biological Select Agents and Toxins: Actions Needed to Improve Management of DOD's Biosafety and Biosecurity Program,” and “High-containment Laboratories: Comprehensive and Up-to-Date Policies and Stronger Oversight Mechanisms Needed to Improve Safety”).

EcoHealth’s tentacles reach far an wide

EcoHealth Alliance is very much involved in the Pentagon’s proliferation of high-containment biological laboratories. It is conducting DTRA-funded work in the following countries, which are all participants in the Pentagon’s Biological Threat Reduction Program.

Tanzania: In Tanzania, a country that is considered only “partly free,” which has a history of foreign medical experimentation and which didn’t ratify the Biological Weapons Convention until 2019, EcoHealth Alliance has a $5-million Pentagon contract, “Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever: Reducing an Emerging Health Threat in Tanzania.” 

Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF) is a tick-borne disease, originally only infecting animals, that was discovered by Ottis and Calista Causey while working for the Rockefeller Foundation in Nigeria. There was only ever one case of CCHF in Tanzania, and that was in 1986. 

Gain-of-function research on CCHF is being conducted at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) to determine the “mechanisms of CCHF transmission including development of CCHF tick and animal infection methods and CCHF tick-animal transmission models.” (The National Bio and Agro Defense Facility will take over the mission of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center and become the lead facility for Foreign Animal Disease research.)

The National Bio and Agro Defense Facility Biosafety Level 4 (BSL4) Zoonotic and Emerging Infectious Disease team’s CCHF Virus Surveillance Project is investigating “the interface between tick vectors, livestock and pastoralist and resource-poor farming communities in Tanzania” as well as the disease’s “molecular pathogenesis.” 

Tanzania is the origin of chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that the U.S. has long cultivated as a potential biological weapon. according to a patent held by the University of Texas for a “chimeric” chikungunya virus created through genetic engineering and synthetic biology:

“The 39 documented laboratory infections reported by HHS in 1981 strongly suggest that Chikungunya virus is infectious via aerosol route. Chikungunya virus was being weaponized by the U.S. Army army when the offensive program was terminated.” 

Tanzania is one of the countries where bat coronaviruses were collected for the PREDICT project.

Tanzania has one Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) laboratory, the privately owned Ifakara Health Institute, which is partnering with PREDICT to launch “concurrent surveillance of wildlife and people in at-risk areas for viral spillover and spread.”

South Africa: In South Africa, which had a notorious apartheid-era biological weapons program, EcoHealth Alliance has a $5-million Pentagon contract (2019-2024), “Reducing the Threat of Rift Valley Fever Through Ecology, Epidemiology and Socio-economics.” This is on top of a $4.9-million grant (2014-2019), “Understanding Rift Valley Fever in the Republic of South Africa.”

The last human outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in South Africa occurred in 2010, when the government reported 237 confirmed cases, including 26 deaths from 9 provinces. But there were also a few cases in 2018 among farmworkers who slaughtered infected animals during an outbreak in livestock. The fever can spread from animals to humans if they come into contact with the blood and other body fluids of an infected animal.

The U.S. military has conducted offensive biological weapons research on Rift Valley Fever. 

South Africa’s biological weapons program included the weaponization of Rift Valley Fever virus obtained from the U.S. government. 

Known as Project Coast, South Africa’s biological weapons program murdered anti-apartheid activists with narcotics and poisons, and attempted a genocide of the black majority by spreading AIDS and by developing pathogens and vaccines that would selectively attack black people with illness, death and infertility.

Dr. Wouter Basson, the project’s top scientist, told Pretoria High Court in South Africa that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency threatened him with death, presumably to prevent him from revealing the deep connections between Project Coast and the U.S., which had forced President F. W. de Klerk to shut down the project and destroy its records. Basson named the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as his source of eight shipments of Ebola, Marburg and Rift Valley viruses, but claimed that he had obtained the viruses by posing as a medical researcher and hiding his affiliation with the South African Defense Forces.

Surveys of bats in South Africa found no evidence of bats being natural carriers of Rift Valley Fever virus, but experiments have shown that bats can be infected with it in a laboratory setting. 

A bat coronavirus collected in South Africa in 2011 was thought to be the closest known relative of the MERS-CoV virus that emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012, until a 100-percent match for MERS-CoV was detected by Daszak and his colleagues in viral RNA fragments from an Egyptian tomb bat found near the home of one of the first MERS victims in Saudi Arabia.

Liberia: In Liberia, which didn’t ratify the Biological Weapons Convention until 2016, EcoHealth Alliance has a $4.91-million Pentagon contract, “Reducing the Threat from High-risk Pathogens Causing Febrile Illness in Liberia.”

Febrile illnesses include Ebola, which has been the subject of some of the most controversial dual-use research.

While the U.S. has a sordid history of biological weapons experimentation on its own people— with conscientious objectors, military “volunteers,” and the general public as frequent subjects—there were some biological weapons tests the Department of Defense considered too unethical to perform within the continental U.S.. Those tests were conducted in other countries, including Liberia.  

Likewise, mirroring medical experimentation on African Americans, there is a history of colonial medical experimentation in Liberia going back to 1926 when the Firestone tire company financed surveys of local diseases they feared could curtail the profitability of their rubber plantations.

More recently, a failed Pentagon-funded Ebola drug trial caused many Liberians to suspect that the subsequent Ebola outbreak was the fault of Tekmira, the pharmaceutical company that created TKM-100802. Doubt surrounded the official story, promoted by Daszak, that the West African Ebola outbreak happened because bats flew in with the Ebola Zaire virus from 2,500 miles away.

In January 2014, the Phase I trial for TKM-100802 was launched, but put on clinical hold by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration due to high cytokine release in participants. In a dose-escalation, healthy volunteer study, one (of two) participants dosed at the highest level of 0·5 mg/kg experienced cytokine release syndrome. Cytokine release syndrome is a pro-inflammatory reaction that occurs when activated lymphocytes and/or myeloid cells release soluble immune mediators following administration of certain therapeutic agents, especially monoclonal antibodies. Onset can be rapid (within hours of administration) and can be life-threatening. 

Ultimately, TKM-100802 proved useless for Ebola patients, but the Pentagon’s $140-million investment, and the boost Tekmira’s stock experienced on speculation that Ebola would soon spawn the next $1-billion drug,  made many investors rich.

Suspicions were raised because the TKM-100802 Phase I trial on healthy volunteers began in January 2014, before the first cases of the Ebola outbreak in March 2014. 

Later, the World Health Organization’s Pierre Formenty traced the first case back to late December 2013, in Meliandou, Guinea. There, 50 meters from the home of patient zero, another researcher, Fabian Leendertz, found DNA fragments that matched the Angolan free-tailed bat, a species known to survive experimental infections with Ebola. Then, Daszak’s EcoHealth team found viral RNA fragments of Ebola Zaire in a greater long-fingered bat, captured in 2016 in Liberia's Sanniquellie-Mahn District, which borders Guinea. There was a 1982 article in Annals of Virology in which a trio of Germans reported finding Ebola antibodies in 26 of 433 Liberians (6 percent). 

Bats aren’t the only place to look for Ebola. 

There’s a BSL-4 lab that was handling Zaire Ebola before the pandemic in Kenema, Sierra Leone. This is where international law attorney Francis Boyle, a drafter of the US Biological Weapons and Anti-Terrorism Act passed into law in 1981, believes the pandemic originated.

There’s also Liberia’s Monkey Island. As the Washington Post reported, that’s where 66 chimpanzees have been since 2004, when they were abandoned by the American scientists at the Liberian labs of the New York Blood Center. From 1974 to 2004, the New York Blood Center captured wild chimps, engaged them in medical experimentation and then released them back into the jungle in a project known as Vilab II (Virology Lab II), which maintained a colony of 200 chimps. Vilab II was built from the remnants of the Liberian Institute of Tropical Medicine. Built by Firestone in 1946, the Liberian Institute of Tropical Medicine had once employed 60 scientists, but by 1974, medical doctor Earl Reber was there alone with eight chimps. The roots of the Liberian Institute of Tropical Medicine go back to the research begun in 1926 by Harvard Department of Tropical Medicine chief Richard Pearson Strong.

Virus hunters like Daszak should have a keen interest in a population of chimpanzees that, for nearly 100 years, has been caught, injected with viruses and then released back into the wild, especially considering the work of the researchers who handled the chimps.

The New York Blood Center is at the center of a theory on the origin of HIV/AIDS, that it came from a contaminated Hepatitis B vaccine the center distributed to gay men from 1978-1981. The New York Blood Center also tested its vaccine on Liberians.

Richard Pearson Strong is infamous for killing 13 men when he infected a group of 24 inmates of Manila's Bilibid Prison with plague through a contaminated cholera vaccine. That was prior to his work in Liberia, which is only now being explored, and also involved experiments with humans as well as chimpanzees.

Georgia: EcoHealth Alliance has a $6.5-million Pentagon grant for “Understanding the Risk of Bat-borne Zoonotic Disease Emergence In Western Asia” (2017-2022). 

Arms Watch reports that this grant involves genetic studies on coronaviruses in 5,000 bats collected in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Jordan. The studies were onducted at the Lugar Center, a $161-million Pentagon-funded biolaboratory in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. Russia claims the Georgia lab is the site of a U.S. biological weapons program. 

According to USASpending.gov, EcoHealth Alliance has received $2.88 million in grants for work in Georgia. The Lugar Center is one of the labs that hosts EcoHealth Alliance’s Western Asia Bat Research Network.

Malaysia: In Malaysia, which is only now in the process of creating a legislative framework for enforcing the Biological Weapons Convention, EcoHealth Alliance had a $1.6-million Pentagon grant (2017-2019) for “Serological Biosurveillance for Spillover of Henipaviruses and Filoviruses at Agricultural and Hunting Human Animal Interfaces in Peninsular Malaysia.” 

There are no known cases of filovirus infections in humans in Malaysia. But Malaysia is the origin of the Nipah virus, first recognized in 1999, during an outbreak among farmers and farmworkers in factory farms and slaughterhouses producing pork. The virus spread to Singapore. In all, there were 265 cases of acute encephalitis with 105 deaths, and the billion-dollar pig-farming industry nearly collapsed. No new outbreaks have been reported in Malaysia since 1999. 

Nipah virus, a zoonotic pathogen for which no treatments exist, is the inspiration for the film “Contagion.” The virus can only be experimented on in BSL-4 laboratories. The National Bio and Agro-Defence Facility in Kansas will be the first biocontainment facility in the U.S. where research on Nipah and Ebola (a filovirus) can be conducted on livestock. 

In 2019, Nipah Malaysia was among the deadly virus strains shipped from Canada's National Microbiology Lab to the WIV. 

Henipaviruses, in the paramyxovirus family, were the first emerging diseases linked to bats. In June 2012, in the same Chinese cave (actually an old copper mine where workers doing cleanup had become sick and died) in which Daszak’s WIV colleagues found SARS-CoV-2’s most closely related coronavirus, another frequent collaborator of Daszak’s, Zhiqiang Wu of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, found a new henipavirus-like pathogen in a rat, naming it the “Mojiang paramyxovirus,” after the county in Yunnan province where it was found.

Malaysia was the planned site of a BSL-4 laboratory run by the pharmaceutical company Emergent Biosolutions for the production of a halal version of the BioThrax vaccine. But that project failed.

In addition to the Pentagon funding, Dazsak obtained $1.7 million in grants (2002-2005) from NIH’s Fogarty International Center for “Anthropogenic Change & Emerging Zoonotic Paramyxoviruses.” In 2012-2014, Daszak had a $569,700 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Service for “Development of a Great Ape Health Unit in Sabah, Malaysia.”

Daszak has a new National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases grant, “Understanding Risk of Zoonotic Virus Emergence in EID Hotspots of Southeast Asia,” for $1.5 million (2020). The grant is for an “Emerging Infectious Diseases - South East Asia Research Collaboration Hub (EID-SEARCH)” that “brings leaders in emerging disease research from the U.S., Thailand, Singapore and the three major Malaysian administrative regions together to build an early warning system to safeguard against pandemic disease threats. This team will identify novel viruses from Southeast Asian wildlife [and] characterize their capacity to infect and cause illness in people…”

Other Pentagon contracts: EcoHealth Alliance had a $1-million Pentagon contract (2017-2019) for an Inbound Bio-event Information System (IBIS), “a web-based application and early warning system for global infectious disease bio-events that threaten the U.S. via international transportation networks.”

EcoHealth Alliance also had another $4.5-million Pentagon contract (HDTRA115C0041) for 2015-2017. No other information is available on this contract other than that it is for “Applied Research/Exploratory Development” in the “Physical, Engineering, and Life Sciences (except Biotechnology).”

Department of Homeland Security Contracts: EcoHealth Alliance has a $566,300 contract (2019-2021) with the Department of Homeland Security for the Rapid Evaluation of Pathogens to Prevent Epidemics in Livestock (REPEL) project “to apply biological-based, pathogen agnostic medical countermeasure vaccine and diagnostic platforms to develop foreign animal and emerging zoonotic livestock disease vaccines.”

Department of Health and Human Services Funding: Daszak obtained a $300,000-grant in 2012 from NIH’s Fogarty International Center for research on “Comparative Spillover Dynamics of Avian Influenza In Endemic Countries.” While most of the research listed in the “results” section of the grant are flu-related, it also includes the WIV’s  paper, “Isolation and Characterization of a Bat SARS-like Coronavirus that Uses the ACE2 Receptor.”

Daszak was given $3.7 million in grants (2002-2012) from NIH’s Fogarty International Center for “The Ecology, Emergence And Pandemic Potential of Nipah Virus in Bangladesh.” 

The grants Daszak used to support the work of the WIV were a $3.7-million grant (2014-2020) “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,” and a $2.6-million grant (2008-2012) “Risk of Viral Emergence From Bats,” each from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funding: In Thailand, EcoHealth Alliance has a $647,200-grant for “One Health Workforce - Next Generation” (2019-2020).

Alexis Baden-Mayer is political director for the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). https://www.organicconsumers.org/ To keep up with OCA’s news and alerts, sign up here.

Finding Common Ground: Can Vegans, Vegetarians and Meat-Eaters Unite for Change?

Organic consumers - Wed, 2020-09-02 14:20
September 2, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationJulie WilsonEnvironment & Climate, CAFOs vs. Free Range cows-in-field.png

To eat meat, or not to eat meat: It’s probably one of the hottest debates around the dinner table. 

But can vegans and vegetarians unite behind a campaign to #BoycottBigMeat—if the campaign incorporates grass-fed and pasture-raised meat production as part of the solution?

On August 25, the #BoycottBigMeat campaign hosted a Facebook Live discussion about veganism, vegetarianism and how meat is produced. #BoycottBigMeat is a national consumer education and lobbying campaign to advance the transition away from today’s centralized industrial meat production to a system of organic regenerative pasture-raised and grass-fed meat production.

Through conversations like these, we hope to help shrink the divide between vegans, vegetarians and producers of regenerative grass-fed and pasture-raised meat and animal products.

While they may differ in their views on whether or not to eat meat or animal products, in many ways, all parties are fighting against the same common enemy: industrial factory farming which threatens our health, our environment and our local economic and food security.

Video of Vegans and Vegetarians for Organic Regenerative Agriculture

Our virtual panel featured well-known vegans and vegetarians who shared their views on the industrial meat industry and the alternatives. Guests included:

• David Bronner of Dr. Bronner’s 

• Ocean Robbins of Food Revolution Network

• Elizabeth Kucinich, organic regenerative food/farming advocate and producer of two food-related documentaries

• Sherri Dugger, executive director of the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project and co-chair of the national coalition of U.S. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal

All of the panelists agreed that while we must reduce meat consumption, we must also advocate for a better food system, one that works with nature, rather than against it. Dugger, who moderated the event, said:

“We can and must do better. It is on this platform that vegans, vegetarians and regenerative agriculture producers can agree.” 

David Bronner of Dr. Bronner’s is a vegan who supports pasture-based agriculture

As CEO of Dr. Bronner’s, Bronner has paved the way for the natural soaps and organic body care industry. His company was the first to certify its soaps, lotions, balms and other bodycare products as organic in 2003, under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program standards.

Bronner is a leader in other areas, too. In 2017, Dr. Bronner’s, along with Patagonia and the Rodale Institute, co-founded the Regenerative Organic Certification, a label centered on three pillars: soil health and land management, animal welfare and farmer and worker fairness.

Though a vegan since 1997, Bronner is an advocate for grass-fed and pasture-based regenerative agriculture systems. He’s inspired by innovative farmers such as Gabe Brown and David Vetter, who build soil health through regenerative farming practices, such as crop rotation and bringing livestock back onto the land.

Bronner takes no issue with meat produced from cows that are managed in a way that’s humane and that allows them to express their natural instinctive behaviors:

“I am in solidarity with high-level pasture-based livestock operators. Our common enemy is this industrial factory farming machine that’s eating us for lunch, that’s raising these animals in cages . . . and feeding them GMO grain that they weren’t evolved to eat. 

“But if we get them out of their cages, drastically reduce the numbers so that we have a balance in our farming ecosystems, like in a wild ecosystem, there is such a thing as a balance between animal and plant life. We can replicate that in a farming ecosystem.” 

Elizabeth Kucinich believes in a holistic perspective when it comes to food & farming

Kucinich also believes in bringing social, economic, health, agricultural and ecological systems into balance. In order to bring vegans, vegetarians and regenerative farmers and ranchers together, we must use compassion to cultivate those relationships, she said. 

When Kucinich became an active board member of the Rodale Institute, she began to learn more about the farmer’s perspective on the land, about soil health and about the economics of agriculture and food production:

“Very often, people who enter the food movement from the consumer perspective, are looking at it from certain eyes and we are really trained by the media . . . that it’s the farmers who are the bad people. But it really isn’t.

“It’s a system of colonization. The farmers themselves in the industrial food system have been colonized as much as animals or genetically engineered grain. We need to have this holistic perspective of how the world works, of how our body ecology works, the consciousness that we bring to the table and what it is that we want to see.” 

Ocean Robbins is an advocate for less meat and better meat 

Robbins is a long-time vegetarian and founder of Food Revolution Network, an organization committed to healthy, ethical and sustainable food for all. 

But Robbins also supports regenerative agriculture. While on a personal level he doesn’t believe in taking the life of an animal to survive if he doesn’t need to, he is also an advocate for better meat, or meat that is produced in a humane and regenerative fashion. 

Robbins discussed how industrialized meat production is arguably the most destructive force on the planet when it comes to the environment, having a negative impact on global warming, soil, water systems—Earth’s entire ecosystem: 

“Humanity is living in a way that is out of alignment with our own sustainability and long-term viability. We are acting more as a cancer than as a collaborator. We are consuming at an ever increasing rate and fueling systematic environmental collapse.

“But as dark as things are. There is also a response. Everywhere there is injustice, there are people working for justice. Everywhere there is war, people are working for peace. Everywhere there is destruction, people are working for healing.”

Robbins is an advocate for regenerative agriculture, even when it involves livestock production, because he understands that such practices restore ecosystems, sequester carbon in the soil, promote clean water and restore our natural relationship with the natural world. 

Vegans, vegetarians and regenerative farmers and ranchers can unite around regenerative agriculture, but only if they respect each other’s food choices, said Robbins. 

“We need to eat less meat. And for those who are going to eat it, eat better meat.”

To learn more about the #BoycottBigMeat campaign, go here.

Julie Wilson is communications associate for the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). To keep up with OCA news and alerts, sign up for our newsletter.

Dr. ‘Coronavirus Hunter’ Ralph Baric: Preparing Us for a Pandemic? Or Putting Us in Peril of One?

Organic consumers - Wed, 2020-08-26 19:00
August 26, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationAlexis Baden-MayerHealth Issues bytes-1200x630-ralph-baric.png

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third article in our ‘Gain-of-Function Hall of Shame’ series profiling key players in gain-of-function research.

Guess what year this ScienceDaily headline appeared:

“New SARS-Like Virus Can Jump Directly from Bats to Humans, No Treatment Available.”

If you guessed 2020, you’re wrong. The article was published in 2015. The source was the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That’s where scientist Ralph Baric, Ph.D, and a team that included Baric’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) colleague, Shi Zhengli, used genetic engineering and synthetic biology to create a “new bat SARS-like virus . . . that can jump directly from its bat hosts to humans.”

Baric is known as the Coronavirus Hunter. Zhengli’s nickname is Bat Woman.

The two are scientists whose work involves collecting samples of the nearly 5,000 coronaviruses in bat populations and manipulating them for the sole purpose of making them more infectious to humans. 

Ostensibly, the research Baric and Zhengli conduct is intended to help scientists get ahead of any coronavirus that might have the potential to emerge as a human pathogen. 

However, there is little evidence that this research has prepared us to meet the challenges of the current COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, there are suspicions that the research may have caused the virus.

As André Leu recently reported for Organic Consumers Association, Baric’s work on the coronavirus team began in 2001. That’s when he assembled a full-length mouse coronavirus—and then removed all the inserts that showed that the virus had been genetically engineered. 

The following year, for the first time, a coronavirus jumped from animals to humans, causing a worldwide outbreak that resulted in 8,000 cases and nearly 800 deaths.

Baric and Zhengli’s 2015 project, “Generating Infectious Clones of Bat SARS-Like CoVs,” involved altering a SARS-CoV virus so it could latch onto the ACE2 receptor, a protein that provides the entry point for the coronavirus to hook into and infect a wide range of human cells. (Some evidence suggests that ACE2 receptors may be more numerous in patients with hypertension, diabetes and coronary heart disease, one reason these comorbidities may contribute to susceptibility to COVID-19).

Baric and Zhengli’s work was “notable not only because there is no treatment” for this newly created virus, ScienceDaily reported, “but also because it highlights an ongoing debate over the government's decision to suspend all gain-of-function experiments on a variety of select agents earlier this year.”

Gain of function experiments aim to improve the ability of a pathogen to cause disease. “Select agents” are biological agents and toxins that have the potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety.

The “government's decision to suspend all gain-of-function experiments on a variety of select agents” refers to the Obama administration’s moratorium on gain-of-function research, officially called the 2014 U.S. Government Deliberative Process Research Funding Pause on Selected Gain-of-Function Research Involving Influenza, MERS and SARS Viruses. 

Baric, Zhengli and their team acknowledged in their published study, “A SARS-Like Cluster of Circulating Bat Coronaviruses Shows Potential for Human Emergence,” that their work was allowed only because it was initiated before the 2014 funding pause on gain-of-function research involving SARS viruses, and also because the National Institutes of Health approved an exemption requested by the researchers.

The Baric-Zhengli team’s work was immediately criticized. Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist and biodefense expert at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, told Nature: “The only impact of this work is the creation, in a lab, of a new, non-natural risk.”

Playing dumb . . . to protect the guilty?

On May 25, 2020, after the emergence of COVID-19, Baric was interviewed by North Carolina Public Radio. In the interview, he was asked this:

“There is a controversy about the laboratory in Wuhan, China. Do they have the kind of safety precautions that you have at the University of North Carolina, and do you have any thoughts about whether this virus was a natural bat-to-human transfer? Or was there something a little bit more, perhaps, insidious involved?” 

Baric responded:

“Well, of course, the answers to those questions are in China and it’s very difficult to imagine that anyone else would know the answer to that question except for people in China. 

“But, I will say this about their facilities. They have a state-of-the-art BSL3/BSL4 facility that was designed and actually discussed with groups here in the United States that also have BSL3 and BSL4 facilities and so the design and the function of that facility, in terms of its safety, has been well reviewed. Exactly how they work in that facility is something that would be very difficult for a Westerner to know unless they had access to the facility and it’s very difficult to get into any nation’s high-containment BSL3/BSL4 facility. So, I don’t know the answer to that question. 

“The main problem that the Institute of Virology has is that the outbreak occurred in close proximity to that institute. That institute has the best collection of virologists in the world, that have gone out and sought out and isolated and sampled bat species throughout Southeast Asia. And so they have a very large collection of viruses in their laboratory. Proximity is a problem. It makes it look bad in any event, and there’s no way to stop that speculation unless China decides to do an open transparent review of what was in the facility and what was going on at that time.”

Why is Baric so quick to implicate the lab he collaborates with—without acknowledging his connection to it?

Why does Baric position the WIV as the only possible lab source of the virus when, as a coronavirus researcher, he knows of dozens of labs around the world—including his own—that collect, store and manipulate bat viruses?

Baric claims that it would be “very difficult for a Westerner to know” how scientists work in the Wuhan lab “unless they had access to the facility, and it’s very difficult to get into any nation’s high-containment BSL3/BSL4 facility.”

Is it possible that Baric was unaware of the news the Washington Post broke on April 14, 2020? The Post reported:

“Two years before the novel coronavirus pandemic upended the world, U.S. Embassy officials visited a Chinese research facility in the city of Wuhan several times and sent two official warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety at the lab, which was conducting risky studies on coronaviruses from bats.”

It seems unlikely that Baric would have missed the Washington Post story, given that the State Department cables cited by the Post specifically mentioned the work Baric had done in collaboration with the Wuhan lab:

“‘Most importantly,’ the cable states, ‘the researchers also showed that various SARS-like coronaviruses can interact with ACE2, the human receptor identified for SARS-coronavirus. This finding strongly suggests that SARS-like coronaviruses from bats can be transmitted to humans to cause SARS-like diseases. From a public health perspective, this makes the continued surveillance of SARS-like coronaviruses in bats and study of the animal-human interface critical to future emerging coronavirus outbreak prediction and prevention.’

“‘The research was designed to prevent the next SARS-like pandemic by anticipating how it might emerge. But even in 2015, other scientists questioned whether Shi’s team was taking unnecessary risks. In October 2014, the U.S. government had imposed a moratorium on funding of any research that makes a virus more deadly or contagious, known as ‘gain-of-function’ experiments.”

One way to excuse Baric’s omissions is to presume that he didn’t want to add fuel to the fire of “debunked conspiracy theories,” namely that the virus “was spread from North Carolina to China, Italy and elsewhere in the U.S. by the “Deep State” in a plot ‘to destroy the Trump economy.’”

There’s one omission that is very hard to excuse: Baric was in Wuhan in 2018, delivering a plenary lecture at the 8th International Symposium on Emerging Viral Diseases sponsored by the Wuhan Institute of Virology. As he says, proximity is a problem. 

But this side-steps the real issue, which is this: Regardless of whether this virus occurred naturally or escaped from a lab, is it really a good idea to manipulate viruses to make them more deadly?

Presumably, Baric would justify his coronavirus research by showing that the millions of dollars the U.S. government invested in his gain-of-function experiments prepared us for COVID-19, making it easier, quicker and cheaper to develop effective medical countermeasures. 

Unfortunately, the opposite appears to be true: All those millions spent on Baric’s research has turned out to be a dangerous boondoggle.

Public scientist or private drug developer?

Baric works at a public university. His research is funded by U.S. (taxpayer-funded) government grants. So in theory, this should create the ideal conditions for him to do scientific work that needn’t be geared toward churning out commercially successful products.

In reality, the ideal of public science as a social function, where the scientist’s only commitment is to improving human health and knowledge through discovery, was discarded back in 1980. 

In her book, “University Inc.: The Corruption of Higher Education,” Jennifer Washburn explains how in 1980, a law known as Bayh-Dole, was passed which allowed universities to own property rights to federally funded research and to license that research to industry in exchange for royalties.

Since then, the worth of scientists has come to be measured more by products than publications, and scientists like Baric have channelled their discoveries toward drug development. Scientists also have been incentivized to take on potentially lucrative partnerships with pharmaceutical companies, or to launch their own startups.

Now, the drugs Baric has developed—and stands to profit from—are at the center of a Trump administration scandal involving billions of dollars in COVID-19 drug and vaccine development contracts going to Trump’s cronies, his family and his administration’s top officials.

Let’s connect the dots between the Bayh-Dole Act, Baric and two drugs being pushed as cures or treatments for COVID-19.

EIDD-2801 (now Merck’s MK-4482): Birth defects? No worries. Big Pharma helped pass a law that lets drugmakers off the hook

Rick Bright, former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), lost his job over a drug originally known as EIDD-2801, now known as Merck’s MK-4482. Here’s how that went down.

During a November 1, 2019 meeting, before the first cases (or at least, publicly known cases) of COVID-19 emerged, Bright was asked by his boss, Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (ASPR), Robert Kadlec, and ASPR Senior Science Advisor, Christian Hassell, to stockpile EIDD-2801.

Kadlec brought friends in to make the case. Pharmaceutical industry lobbyist John Clerici and George Painter, director of the Emory Institute for Drug Development (EIDD—hence the drug’s name), along with president and CEO of Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory (DRIVE), declared during the meeting that EIDD-2801 was a “miracle cure” and a “cure-all” for influenza, Ebola and nearly every other virus. Painter said it could be “a great asset to national security.”

In reality, EIDD-2801 was just a drug that they hadn’t been able to pawn off on anyone in the private sector because it was associated with birth defect risks. Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic, and with it, new possibilities for EIDD-2801. 

Why? Because if EIDD-2801 could be sold to the government as a pandemic, epidemic or bioterrorism countermeasure, there would be no need to worry about birth defects—thanks to legislation that Clerici had been instrumental in passing. 

Under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, a bill that Clerici was “pivotal” in drafting and passing, the government provides “substantial liability protections for makers and distributors of pandemic, epidemic, and bioterrorism countermeasures.”

Painter’s colleague, EIDD Executive Director Dennis Liotta, had developed EIDD-2801 when he and Raymond Schinazi, another Emory University scientist who has no connection to DRIVE, co-owned the pharmaceutical company Pharmasset. Because of the concern about birth defects, they dumped EIDD-2801 before they sold Pharmasset to Gilead Sciences in 2011, for $11.2 billion. As Schinazi told Science magazine, Pharmasset had abandoned EIDD-2801 back in 2003, after discovering its mutagenic properties. 

Bright knew about these problems with reproductive toxicity in animals, including that some offspring from animals treated with EIDD-2801 had been born without teeth and without parts of their skulls. 

Since Emory had already received $30 million in government funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defense to fund toxicity studies and initial clinical trials, Bright suggested that they complete these studies and then, if they had evidence that the drug was safe, return to BARDA later.

“Thank goodness someone is raising the red flag,” about EIDD-2801, Schinazi told Science magazine. “You don’t develop a drug that’s mutagenic. Period.”

As Clerici and Painter were contemplating their next move, word of a virus spreading in Wuhan, China, was starting to make news. According to the EIDD-2801 origin story they told Chemical & Engineering News, Baric, one of Painter’s collaborators, immediately alerted Painter to the fact that the new pathogen was probably a coronavirus—one that EIDD-2801 could potentially combat.

Mark Denison, their collaborator at Vanderbilt University, told Chemical & Engineering News that the research team had known that a coronavirus outbreak was inevitable. Denison told the publication:

“Every single one of our grants, every single one of our papers predicted that this event was going to happen that’s occurring right now. The whole goal of our drug development was to plan for this.

Painter told Chemical & Engineering News: “We thought, ‘Oh my god, it’s a coronavirus. We should be ready.’”

They didn’t have any new science, but in February 2020, Painter, Kadlec and others went back to Bright. He still wouldn’t budge. When Kadlec couldn’t pressure Bright to buy EIDD-2801, he removed him from BARDA.

With Bright out of the way, the campaign for EIDD-2801 continued. 

In March 2020, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, owned by Wayne Holman and Wendy Commins Holman, purchased an exclusive license to EIDD-2801 from DRIVE for an undisclosed amount. 

In May 2020, Ridgeback flipped the drug, selling it to Merck, which renamed it MK-4482.

MK-4482 could become a blockbuster drug, stockpiled by governments and hospitals to treat COVID-19 and future coronavirus outbreaks. Painter told Chemical & Engineering News that ideally, MK-4482 would be administered  once someone has been exposed to SARS-CoV-2—to prevent infection—or up to a week or so after someone has been infected.

Earnings and forecasts are up for Merck, in part because of anticipation of marketing MK-4482 as an oral antiviral Covid-19 treatment.

Painter has been promoting the idea of using MK-4482 in combination with another antiviral Baric works on, Remdesivir.

The better to hide any adverse reactions?

Remdesivir: The Ebola drug reject taxpayers have pent $70.5M on . . . so far

Remdesivir, like EIDD-2801, is a drug looking for a market. In January 2020, Fierce Biotech ran an article about Gilead’s plan to cash in othe the coronavirus pandemic with a drug that it hadn’t been able to make any money on yet:

“Gilead Sciences is considering repositioning . . . remdesivir as a treatment for the coronavirus now sweeping across parts of China. The antiviral last made headlines when Gilead tested it, with little success, as a treatment for Ebola virus.

“As happened during the Ebola outbreak, the surge in cases of infection with a potentially fatal strain of the coronavirus in parts of China has led to a flurry of statements from biotechs with assets they claim could help keep the virus under control.

“Based on previous outbreaks, few, if any, of the programs now being talked up will lead to drugs that make a difference, either therapeutically or commercially . . . Gilead has a drug that has already been tested in humans. That positions Gilead to respond more quickly to the outbreak, although it also leaves scope to doubt whether it has a drug capable of tackling coronavirus.

“Gilead pushed remdesivir forward quickly in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases in response to the West African Ebola virus epidemic that began in 2013. The R&D program culminated in a randomized controlled clinical trial that tested remdesivir and three other drugs in patients with Ebola.

“The trial found two of the drugs were more effective than remdesivir, putting an end to efforts to establish [it] as a treatment option in Ebola.” 

Public Citizen estimates that taxpayers have, so far, contributed at least $70.5 million to develop remdesivir, and argues that if it turns out it works, Americans shouldn’t have to pay twice for it. Instead, remdesivir should be distributed to patients for free through a public health system.

But, this begs another question: Is all the money that has been invested in—and could be made from—this drug, preventing the government from being objective as to the drug’s actual promise?

Critics say Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, skewed results of the remdesivir trials—and still got weak results. 

Meryl Nass, in her blog post, “Faking Results: Fauci's NIAID-paid Remdesivir Study Changed Its Outcome Measures Twice, in Order to Show Even a Whiff of Benefit,” writes:

“Fauci … has done the unthinkable in medicine: changed the goalposts, twice, on his remdesivir study in order to provide the appearance of benefit. Even then, benefit was quite small.”

This surely has nothing to do with the fact that at least eight members of the NIH panel that writes COVID guidelines have financial interests in Gilead Sciences.

The only conclusion one can reasonably draw from Baric’s story is that scientists who engage in risky gain-of-function research are much better at creating more dangerous viruses than they are at curing them.

Please sign our petition demanding a global ban on gain-of-function research.

Alexis Baden-Mayer is OCA’s political director. To keep up with OCA’s news and alerts, sign up here.

'Food Fix': How to Save Our Health, Our Economy, Our Communities and Our Planet—One Bite at a Time

Organic consumers - Tue, 2020-08-25 17:18
August 25, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationDr. Mark HymanEnvironment & Climate, Fair Trade & Social Justice, Health Issues, Politics & Globalization markhyman_1200x630.png

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the introduction to Dr. Mark Hyman's latest book, "Food Fix." To purchase the book, click here.

It is a wonderful feeling to recognize the unity of a complex of phenomena that to direct observation appear to be quite separate things.

Albert Einstein

It is . . . our apparent reluctance to recognize the interrelated nature of the problems and therefore the solutions that lies at the heart of our predicament and certainly on our ability to determine the future of food.

Prince Charles

There is one place that nearly everything that matters in the world today converges: our food and our food system — the complex web of how we grow food, how we produce, distribute, and promote it; what we eat, what we waste, and the policies that perpetuate unimaginable suffering and destruction across the globe that deplete our human, social, economic, and natural capital.

Food is the nexus of most of our world’s health, economic, environmental, climate, social, and even political crises. While this may seem like an exaggeration, it is not. The problem is much worse than we think. After reading Food Fix you will be able to connect the dots of this largely invisible crisis and understand why fixing our food system is central to the health and well-being of our population, our environment, our climate, our economy, and our very survival as a species. You will also understand the forces, businesses, and policies driving the catastrophe, and the people, businesses, and governments that are providing hope and a path to fixing our dysfunctional food system.

But why would a doctor be so interested in food, the system that produces it, and food policy?

As a doctor, my oath is to relieve suffering and illness and to do no harm. As a functional medicine physician, I was trained to focus on the root causes of disease and to think of our body as one interconnected ecosystem.

Our diet is the number one cause of death, disability, and suffering in the world. Our food has dramatically transformed over the last 100 years, and even more radically over the last 40 years, as we have eaten a diet of increasingly ultraprocessed foods made from a handful of crops (wheat, corn, soy). If poor diet is the biggest killer on the planet, I was forced to ask, what is the cause of our food and the system that produces it? This led to a deep exploration of the entire food chain, from seed to field to fork to landfill, and the harm caused at each step of the journey. The story of food shocked me, frightened me, and drove me to tell this story and to find the possibility of redemption from the broken system that is slowly destroying the people and things we love most.

Our most powerful tool to reverse the global epidemic of chronic disease, heal the environment, reverse climate change, end poverty and social injustice, reform politics, and revive economies is food. The food we grow, how we grow it, and the food we eat have tremendous implications not just for our waistlines but also for our communities, the planet, and the global economy.

Chronic disease is now the single biggest threat to global economic development. Lifestyle-caused diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer now kill nearly 50 million people a year, more than twice as many as die from infectious disease. Two billion people go to bed overweight and 800 million go to bed hungry in the world today. One in two Americans and one in four teenagers have pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

Lobbyists’ influence over policy makers has put corporations, not citizens, at the center of every aspect of our food system, from what and how food is grown to what is manufactured, marketed, and sold. When money rules politics, it results in our current uncoordinated and conflicting food policies, which subsidize and protect and facilitate Big Food’s and Big Ag’s domination of our food system to the detriment of our population and our environment. Big Ag and Big Food co-opt politicians, public health groups, grassroots advocacy groups, scientists, and schools and pollute science and public opinion with vast amounts of dollars and misinformation campaigns. The consolidation and monopolization of the food industry over the last 40 years from hundreds of different processed-food companies, seed companies, and chemical and fertilizer companies into just a few dozen companies make it the largest collective industry in the world, valued at approximately $15 trillion, or about 17 percent of the entire world’s economy. And it is controlled by a few dozen CEOs who determine what food is grown and how it is grown, processed, distributed, and sold. This affects every single human on the planet.

Our children’s future is threatened by an achievement gap caused in large part by their inability to learn on a diet of processed foods and sugar served in schools. Fifty percent of schools serve brand-name fast food in their cafeterias and 80 percent have contracts with soda companies. Food companies target children and minorities with billions in marketing of the worst “foods.”

Poverty, social injustice, and violence are perpetuated by the harmful effects of our nutritionally toxic and depleted food environment on children’s intellectual development, mood, and behavior. Violent prison crime can be dramatically reduced by providing a healthy diet to prisoners. Our national security is threatened because our young adults are not fit to fight and not eligible for service, and many of our soldiers are overweight.

We are also depleting nature’s capital — capital that, once destroyed, may only be able to be partially reclaimed. The threat is not only to our health and our children’s future, but also to the health of the planet that sustains us. Our industrial agricultural and food system (including food waste) is the single biggest cause of climate change, exceeding all use of fossil fuels. Current farming practices may cause us to run out of soil and fresh water in this century. We are destroying our rivers, lakes, and oceans by the runoff of nitrogen-based fertilizers, which is creating vast swaths of marine dead zones. We waste 40 percent of the food we produce, costing more than $2.6 trillion a year in global impact.

There is a solution, a food fix. Across the globe there are governments, businesses, grassroots efforts, and individuals who are reimagining our food system, creating solutions that address the challenges we face across the landscape of our food system. This book both defines the problems and maps out the policies, business innovations, and grassroots solutions, providing ideas for what we can each do to improve our health and the health of our communities and the planet.

The imperative to transform our food system is not just medical, moral, or environmental, but economic. Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, the dean of Tufts School of Nutrition Science and Policy, injects hope into what may seem like an overwhelming problem and highlights the “waves of innovation and capital now sweeping food and allied disciplines, from agriculture to processing to restaurants and retail, and in healthcare, personalization, mobile tech, and employee wellness. Catalyzing this multi-billion-dollar revolution, and ensuring its rapid trajectory is evidence-based and mission-oriented, is an essential opportunity and challenge.”

As a doctor, it is increasingly clear to me that the health of our citizens, the health of our society and our planet, depends on disruptive innovations that decentralize and democratize food production and consumption, innovations that produce real food at scale, that restore the health of soils, water, air, and the biodiversity of our planet, and that reverse climate change. I cannot cure obesity and diabetes in my office. It is cured on the farm, in the grocery store, in the restaurant, in our kitchens, schools, workplaces, and faith-based communities.

All these things and more can provide the seeds for the type of transformation needed to solve one of the central problems of our time — the quality of what we put on our fork every day. We have to take back our health one kitchen, one home, one family, one community, one farm at a time! Changes to our own diet are necessary but not sufficient to truly create the shifts needed to create a healthy, sustainable, just world.

The policies and businesses that drive our current system must change to support a reimagined food system from field to fork and beyond. If we were to identify one big lever to pull to improve global health, create economic abundance, reduce social injustice and mental illness, restore environmental health, and reverse climate change, it would be transforming our entire food system. That is the most important work of our time — work that must begin now.

Reprinted with permission from "Food Fix" by Mark Hyman, copyright © 2020. Published by Little, Brown Spark, an imprint of Little, Brown Books. Click here to buy the book. 

Connecting the Dots: Big Meat, Big Pharma, Big Vaccines and Big Pandemics

Organic consumers - Thu, 2020-08-20 16:14
August 20, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationMartha RosenbergHealth Issues cowvac2_1200x630.png

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is surely the worst in recent memory, but prehistory is full of records of plagues and pandemics.

In more modern history, we’ve seen the Asian flu pandemic of 1957, the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968 and the AIDS pandemic of 1981.

Then, a decade ago, along came H1N1, a novel flu virus hosted by pigs. H1N1 was followed in 1997 by H5N1, a bird flu virus that first surfaced  in Hong Kong.

What's different about these more recent pandemics?

They're directly linked to the “intensive confinement of animals” in factory farms, according to the Journal of Public Health Policy. 

Since the onset of COVID-19—which clearly did not originate on an industrial factory farm—experts have rightly pointed out that our industrial meat and poultry production systems are breeding grounds for future pandemics.

But what most have them haven't done, is connect the dots between Big Pharma's animal vaccines and the increased risk of pandemics.

Connecting the dots: swine flu, avian flu and pandemics

The novel H1N1, originally called swine flu, which was responsible for the 2009 – 2010 pandemic, was a new and ominous combination of five viruses––North American swine flu, North American avian flu, two swine flu viruses from in Asia and Europe and a human flu virus.

The five viruses had undergone re-assortment and swapped genes, creating a novel virus not previously identified in humans.

Not only did no one have immunity or antibodies to H1N1, but experts said humans could both give and get H1N1 from pigs. According to Nancy Cox, director of the Influenza Division at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) during the H1NI pandemic:

"Unlike the situation with birds and humans, we have a situation with pigs and humans where there's a two-way street of exchange of viruses."

Five months after its identification, H1N1 had spread to 43 countries  according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which declared it a pandemic in June 2009. Between 151,700 and 575,400 people died worldwide, according to the CDC.

In 1997, a strain of avian flu called H5N1 surfaced in Hong Kong, and for eight years had much of the world fearing a pandemic. Like H1N1, H5N1 was novel pathogen never before encountered. By 2004, H5N1 had spread to more than 50 countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Though there were cases where H5N1 was "transferred from birds to humans, in settings such as farms or open markets with live animal vending," said researchers in the Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology, H5N1 lacked the human-to-human transmission of H1N1. But of those who got the virus, as many as 66 percent died.

During the H5N1 pandemic scare hundreds of millions of birds were inhumanely exterminated in a vain attempt to stop the disease. But new, unexposed animals introduced into the same, virus-laden environments perpetuated it. The disease remains endemic in several countries.

Moreover, bird viruses related to H5N1, such as H5N2, H5N7 and H5N8, have raged through industrial poultry farms in the U.S. since 2015, with tens of millions of birds destroyed––12 percent of U.S. egg layers and 8 percent of turkeys.

Big Food succeeded in hiding the extent of the bird flu outbreaks on industrial poultry farms in the U.S., to avoid scaring people away from eating their products. "It doesn't affect humans, just birds," they declared, even as CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operations, the industry term for factory farms) operations across the country have been depopulated under the public's radar. A new U.S. bird flu outbreak in 2020 barely got a mention in the mainstream press.

Experts: ‘Widespread vaccination may actually be selecting for new viral types’

Prehistory is full of records of plagues and pandemics. But, according to the Journal of Public Health policy, today's pandemics are different, especially when it comes to flu viruses, thanks to the “intensive confinement of animals” in factory farms—and the widespread use of animal vaccines on those farms:

"For centuries, the evolution of the influenza virus had remained relatively stable. In recent years, however, the virus has undergone an evolutionary surge, with new variants emerging rapidly. The intensive confinement of animals is shown to be a major contributor to this surge. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1, first isolated in the Guangdong Province of China in 1996, is one of the most notable pathogens to appear recently...

According to the World Organization for Animal Health of the Food and Agriculture Organization, two lessons should be learned from these prior outbreaks. First, that if LPAI [low pathogenic avian influenza] viruses are allowed to spread among farmed birds, they can eventually mutate into HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza] viruses; and second, that densely confining birds considerably increases their vulnerability to infectious diseases."

The crowding and stress rampant throughout industrial factory farms are only part of what has changed in modern meat production. The other big change is the extent to which food animals are medicated and vaccinated.

For example, Merck, a leader in both human and animal vaccines, markets over 30 vaccines for poultry diseases like fowl pox, turkey coryza, bursal disease, coccidiosis, laryngotracheitis, hemorrhagic enteritis, avian encephalomyelitis of course salmonella and E. coli.

Merck also markets vaccines for cattle, pigs and even farmed fish.

According to an article in Science magazine, titled "Chasing the Fickle Swine Flu," vaccination is now routine in traditional animal farming.

"Another crucial change has been the recent wide-scale vaccination for swine influenza. In less than a decade, vaccination has become the norm for breeding sows."

The widespread use of vaccines has caused a whole new set of problems, according to the article:

"Today, more than half of all sows are vaccinated against both both H1N1 and H3N2 viruses, says Robyn Fleck, a veterinarian at Schering-Plough, one of the nation's three producers of swine influenza vaccine. But the vaccine is not protecting against all new strains. 'We’re seeing clinical disease in vaccinated pigs,' says Rossow [veterinary pathologist of the University of Minnesota]. Flu is also showing up in piglets thought to be protected by maternal antibodies passed on from vaccinated sows."

The big question that neither Big Food or Big Vax want the public ask is whether vaccinations are driving pandemics, especially because of the uniform immunity created by animal bio-engineering that helps them spread.

Again, according to Science magazine:

"Widespread vaccination may actually be selecting for new viral types. If vaccination develops populations with uniform immunity to certain virus genotypes, say H1N1 and H3N2, then other viral mutants would be favored. Webby [Richard Webby, a molecular virologist] suggests that the combination of avian polymerase genes generating errors in the genetic sequence and immunologic pressure from vaccination may be selecting for unique variants...

Schering-Plough veterinarian Terri Wasmoen acknowledges that vaccines 'may be pressuring change.' But she also notes that larger hog confinement operations and more shipping from state to state may play a role."

How did H1N1 really start?

Suspicions continue to circulate about the origins of the H1N1 swine flu pandemic. In 2009, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives wrote that "one potential source of the original outbreak—factory swine farming in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)—has received comparatively little attention by public health officials."

Gregory Gray, director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, notes the inherent risks in CAFOs:

"When respiratory viruses get into these confinement facilities, they have continual opportunity to replicate, mutate, reassort, and recombine into novel strains...The best surrogates we can find in the human population are prisons, military bases, ships, or schools."

Unlike such human congregate facilities where a virus will often "burn out," said Gray, in CAFOs, because there is a continual introduction of new animals, "there’s a much greater potential for the viruses to spread and become endemic."

In fact, when H1N1 first surfaced, in Mexico near the town of La Gloria in the Mexican state of Veracruz, a cluster of CAFOs owned by the Mexican meat giant Granjas Carroll and partially owned by Smithfield Foods immediately came under suspicion.

Mexican government officials were quick to deny any links.

According to GRAIN, a small international non-profit organization supporting small farmers and biodiversity-based community-controlled food systems, there were additional questions about the H1N1 virus' origin in Mexico:

"While it has not been widely reported, the region around the community of La Gloria is also home to many large poultry farms...in September 2008, there was an outbreak of bird flu among poultry in the region. At the time, veterinary authorities assured the public that it was only a local incidence of a low-pathogenic strain affecting backyard birds.

But we now know, thanks to a disclosure made by Marco Antonio Núñez López, the President of the Environmental Commission of the State of Veracruz, that there was also an avian flu outbreak on a factory farm about 50 kilometres from La Gloria owned by Mexico's largest poultry company, Granjas Bachoco, that was not revealed because of fears of what it might mean for Mexico's export markets."

According to Grain, scientists from the National Institutes of Health warn that locating swine CAFOs next to avian CAFOs "could further promote the evolution of the next pandemic."

The centralized nature of the CAFO industry ensures that "the disease gets carried far and wide, whether by feces, feed, water or even the boots of workers," added Grain.

Residents of La Gloria, however, had no luck in getting authorities to investigate the "genetic cocktail of pig, bird and human influenza," lurking at the nearby Granjas Carroll operation. Authorities even accused the residents of spreading the disease through the use home remedies wrote Grain.

Such corporate cover-ups are commonplace, according to Grain:

"It is not the first time and it will not be the last time that corporate farms conceal disease outbreaks and put people’s lives at risk. It is the nature of their business...in Romania, Smithfield refused to let local authorities enter its pig farms after residents complained of the stench coming from hundreds of dead corpses of pigs left rotting for days at the farms...Eventually, it emerged that Smithfield had been concealing a major outbreak of classical swine fever on its Romanian farms.

In Indonesia, where people are still dying from bird u and where many health experts believe the next pandemic virus will emerge, authorities can still not enter large corporate farms without the permission of the company." 

It will only get worse . . . unless we end industrial meat production

There are clear reasons CAFOs drive pandemics. The stress and crowding reduce animals' immune systems which are already impaired by bio-engineering and the uniform immunity it produces.

The many medications animals are given, including hormones, growth producers and antibiotics further, reduce the animals' health.

Finally, vaccines encourage the development of mutant strains of a virus.

CAFOs not only encourage pandemic-capable viruses, they spread them through polluting the air and water with their run-off, manure lagoons and biosolids.

CAFO's also spread pandemics through their unethical treatment of workers. According to Environmental Health Perspectives, protection of the 54,000 workers working on swine and poultry CAFOs during the H1N1 pandemic was "relatively small" and workers can unwittingly spread the virus:

"In a 2-year prospective study of 803 rural Iowans, published in Emerging Infectious Diseases in December 2007, he [Dr. Gray] found that CAFO workers were 50 times more likely to have elevated H1N1 antibodies than nonexposed controls. Equally important, their spouses were 25 times more likely to harbor these antibodies, reflecting how the viruses can jump from farm workers to their intimate contacts.

Similarly, in work published 15 May 2009 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Gray and coauthor Whitney S. Baker reported that 84% of 44 seroepidemiologic studies reviewed identified an increased risk of zoonotic pathogen infection among veterinarians."

In July, the CDC reported that 16,200 workers across 23 states had tested positive for the virus.

The worldwide danger of CAFOs has long been recognized says Dr. Michael Greger, a physician and internationally recognized public health expert:

"The public health community has been warning about the risks posed by factory farms for years . . . in 2003, the American Public Health Association, the largest and oldest association of public health professionals in the world, called for a moratorium on factory farming. In 2005, the United Nations urged that '[g]overnments, local authorities and international agencies need to take a greatly increased role in combating the role of factory-farming,' which, they said, combined with live animal markets, 'provide ideal conditions for the [influenza] virus to spread and mutate into a more dangerous form.'"

Yet despite the warnings, global industrial meat production marches on.

Martha Rosenberg is a contributing writer to the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). To keep up with OCA news and alerts, sign up for our newsletter.

Strangulation Wire Sent To Organic Farmers Meant To 'Put the Fear of the Devil' in Them Over Opposition To Hog Confinement

Organic consumers - Mon, 2020-08-17 23:07
August 17, 2020The Organic & Non-GMO ReportKen RoseboroAll About Organics, Farm Issues sunsetlakesorganics1200x630.jpg

Hog CAFO threatens health of farming couple, Randy and Crystal Clair, and their organic farm

One day in July, Crystal Clair received a strange package in the mail. She opened it and found a round piece of wire with tiny teeth like those on a saw blade. She didn’t know what it was but when she showed it to her husband, Randy, he told her it was a garrote, a strangulation device.

Why would anyone send the Clairs, who own an organic farm, Sunset Lake Organics, in west central Illinois, a weapon of death?

Crystal thinks the garrote may be a warning sent by supporters of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) who are angry about the Clairs’ opposition to a hog CAFO near their farm.

“Someone is trying to send us a message to keep us quiet.They’re trying to put the fear of the devil in me,” Crystal says.

The Clairs and their organic farming are threatened by a 5000-hog CAFO just 2,208 feet, less than half a of mile, from their home that opened in 2019. The stench from the CAFO is forcing the Clairs to stay indoors and posing risks to their health; both Randy and Crystal have fought cancer. Manure runoff from the CAFO could also contaminate a lake on their organic farm that the Clairs rely on for irrigation and water for their compost operation.

Transitioned to organic to build soil health

The Clairs recently transitioned to organic farming after farming conventionally for 40 years. They farm 750 acres, growing a range of organic crops, including yellow corn, food-grade soybeans, blue corn, wheat, oats, and hay.

They transitioned to organic because they saw that conventional methods were ruining their soil.

“I wasn’t doing the soil any good,” Randy says. “The only way I could see was to grow organically with the compost and try to get the life and health back in the soil.”

Health was also a factor in the Clairs’ decision to go organic. Crystal has suffered from breast cancer, while Randy had to deal with prostate cancer.

“I would suspect that all the chemicals that I handled when I was farming conventionally could’ve had a big effect on my cancer,” Randy says.

To build soil health, the Clairs developed an extensive composting system to increase the fertility of their soil.

“It’s made a difference,” Crystal says. “You can see the earthworms in the soil. The soil is forgiving now. You can walk on it and it springs back. It’s not rock hard.”

But the nearby hog CAFO could destroy the Clairs’ work—and the quality of their lives. They raised concerns about the hog confinement in 2018 when the owner, Ragan Peter, sought and received permission from the Illinois Department of Agriculture to build it.

Crystal says Peter visited them in May 2018. “This guy came up on our porch and told us if we continue to oppose this CAFO that our lives and our livelihood will never be the same,” she says.

The Clairs’ lives haven’t been the same. This summer, the stench from Peter’s CAFO forced them to inside for eight days, unable to work on their farm.

“This summer has been pretty miserable,” Randy says. “The smell makes Crystal sick. It makes me angry that I have to work in those conditions.”

“My doctor told me that I can’t be breathing this stuff; that it would kill my immune system,” says Crystal. “I get a headache, a stomach ache, and my eyes burn.”

CAFOS produce massive amounts of manure

CAFOs, like Peter’s, are increasingly controversial in the U.S. The facilities hold anywhere from hundreds to thousands of animals such as hogs or chickens in tight quarters.

CAFOs produce massive amounts of manure, so much in fact, that University of Iowa research engineer Chris Jones estimates that Iowa, with a population of 3.2 million people—and 23 million hogs—produces more than twice the amount of fecal waste per square mile than California with its population of nearly 40 million.

Published studies have found that gases—ammonia and hydrogen sulfide—produced by stagnating liquid manure in CAFOs can cause respiratory problems, nausea, headaches, diarrhea, burning eyes, confusion, tension, depression, and post-traumatic stress. Children living near CAFOS are particularly at risk for asthma.

Manure also leaks from manure pits and can contaminate waterways like streams, lakes, and rivers, killing fish, and ruining waterways for recreational use.

Other problems caused by CAFOs include environmental damage, reduced quality of life and property values for homeowners living near them, and poor animal welfare.

With animals packed in tight quarters, CAFOs are breeding grounds for disease, leading CAFO owners to administer high doses of antibiotics, which could lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria that threaten human health.

Hog CAFOs could also breed the next pandemic, according to a recent article in Mother Jones. The article quotes Gregory Gray, professor of medicine, global health, and environmental health at Duke University and an expert on animal-to-human disease transmission, who says his biggest worry for the next pandemic is Influenza A viruses that originate in pigs.  

CAFO supporters claim the facilities offer a more efficient system to feed and house animals; the facilities can produce more animals with less labor. Peter said his CAFO would benefit the local economy providing several jobs and tax income.

Manure could contaminate lake

The Clairs are concerned about manure from Peter’s hog confinement, which produces 1.2 million gallons of manure each year, contaminating their farm. To get rid of the manure, Peter must get permission from local farmers to spread it onto their lands. According to the Clairs, 45 acres of the land Peter is spreading manure onto drains into their 4.5-acre lake, which is essential to their farm. They use water from the lake to irrigate their compost site as well as vegetables in their greenhouse and garden. Manure drainage into their lake would devastate their farming operation and essentially turn their lake into a manure pit “200 feet from our doorstep,” according to Randy. He adds:“It’s just a matter of time before the manure contaminates the farm.”

At a public meeting in 2018, Peter said the chance of manure running off into nearby waterways such as the Clairs’ lake was “very slim” and that he wasn’t worried about it happening.

But manure from Peter’s CAFO has already polluted a pond and stream that empties into the Mississippi River, according to a freedom of information act request from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the Clairs obtained.

We were here for 45 years before he showed up”

What recourse do the Clairs have? Regulations of hog confinements, such as they are, favor CAFO owners and big agriculture, says Liz Moran Stelk, executive director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

“Similar versions of the Clairs’ story are playing out all over the state,” she says. “Government has had its finger on the scales in favor of conventional agriculture. There are decades of policy that favor the (CAFO owning) neighbor. It’s out of balance, and there’s very little people can do.”

Moran Stelk says many organic farmers end up filing lawsuits because they see no other recourse to damage from CAFOs, pesticide drift, or other challenges from conventional agriculture.

“They feel alone and that they have to defend themselves even though no one wants to be litigious,” she says.

The Clairs are considering legal action because they say their property rights are being denied. “Our right to do what we want to do on our farm when we want to do it is being stripped from us because the odor is so bad it’s hard to even describe,” Crystal says. “We’ve never wanted to sue anybody, but who is going to stand up for us?”

“We were here for 45 years before he showed up,” Randy says.

Fortunately, the Clairs aren’t alone in their fight. They have formed a coalition with six other neighbors facing the same challenges with Peter’s CAFO.

The Clairs are fighting to keep their organic farm. “We were here first and we are thriving, but it has been a living hell. If we weren’t organic, we would have probably packed up and moved, but we have so much invested in this,” Crystal says.

Moran Stelk says Illinois needs more farmers like Randy and Crystal Clair but it’s unfortunate that they face such challenges.

“They’re doing really good work prioritizing soil health and using compost. But we’re making it really hard for farmers like them to thrive, and for what?”

Posted with permission from The Organic & Non-GMO Report.

Engineered COVID-19-Infected Mouse Bites Researcher Amid ‘Explosion’ of Risky Coronavirus Research

Organic consumers - Fri, 2020-08-14 17:02
August 14, 2020Independent Science NewsJonathan LathamHealth Issues mouselab_1200x630.png

University researchers genetically engineer a human pandemic virus. They inject the new virus into a laboratory mouse. The infected mouse then bites a researcher…..It is a plot worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster about risky coronavirus research.

But according to newly obtained minutes of the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) of the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill, these exact events need not be imagined. They occurred for real between April 1st and May 6th this year.

The identity of the bitten coronavirus researcher has not been revealed except that they were working in a high security BSL-3 virus lab when the accident happened.

According to Richard Ebright, an epidemiologist from Rutgers University, the UNC incident underscores an important development in virus research since the pandemic began:

“There has been an explosion of research involving fully infectious SARS-CoV-2 over the last six months.  Research with infectious SARS-CoV-2 now is occurring in every, or almost every, BSL-3 facility in the US and overseas.”

This strong upsurge is affirmed by Edward Hammond of Prickly Research, Austin, Texas, former Director of the Sunshine Project, an NGO that tracked the post 9/11 expansion of the US Biodefense program.

“It is evident that swarms of academic researchers with little prior experience with coronaviruses have leapt into the field in recent months.”

For Hammond, this explosion represents a hazard:

“We need to be clear headed about the risk. The first SARS virus was a notorious source of laboratory-acquired infections and there is a very real risk that modified forms of SARS-CoV-2 could infect researchers, especially inexperienced researchers, with unpredictable and potentially quite dangerous results. The biggest risk is the creation and accidental release of a novel form of SARS-CoV-2 — a variant whose altered characteristics might undermine global efforts to stop the pandemic by evading the approaches being taken to find COVID vaccines and treatments.”

And, continues Hammond: “Each additional lab that experiments with CoV-2 amplifies the risk.”

Richard Ebright concurs, telling Independent Science News in an email that this research is:

“in many cases being performed by researchers who have no prior experience in BSL-3 operations and pathogens research, and who therefore pose elevated risk of laboratory accidents with BSL-3 pathogens.”

Ebright is also concerned that some influential experimenters are now calling for reduced oversight:

“The UNC incident also underscores that calls by some, notably Columbia University virologist Vincent Racaniello (Podcast at 01:35mins onwards), to allow virus-culture and virus-production research with fully infectious SARS-CoV-2 at BSL-2 are egregiously irresponsible and absolutely unacceptable.”

Other researchers are also calling for restraint. In a paper titled “Prudently Conduct Engineering and Synthesis of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus,” researchers from China and the US critiqued the synthesis in February of a full length infectious clone (Gao et al., 2020; Thao et al., 2020). And, in concluding, these researchers asked a question that is even more pertinent now than then “Once the risks [of a lab escape] become a reality, who or which organization should take responsibility for them?”

Lack of transparency

The accident at the University of North Carolina (UNC) is now in the public domain but only thanks to a FOIA request submitted by Hammond (in line with NIH guidelines) and shared with Independent Science News.

Despite the FOIA request, apart from the fact that UNC classified it as an official “Reportable Incident”, i.e. that must be reported to National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Washington DC, scarcely any information about the accident is available.

In part this is because the minutes of the relevant IBC meeting (May 6th, 2020, p109) are extremely brief. They do not provide any details of the fate of the bitten researcher. Nor do they state, for example, whether the researcher developed an active infection, nor whether they developed symptoms, nor if they transmitted the recombinant virus to anyone else. Neither do they reveal what kind of recombinant virus was being used or the purpose of the experiment.

To try to learn more, Independent Science News emailed the lab of Ralph Baric at UNC, which, based on their research history is the most likely coronavirus research group involved (Roberts et al., 2007; Menachery et al., 2015), the University Biosafety Officer, and UNC Media relations.

Only the latter replied:

“The April 2020 incident referred to in the University Institutional Biosafety Committee meeting minutes involved a mouse-adapted SARS-CoV-2 strain used in the development of a mouse model system.”

UNC media relations also told Independent Science News that:

“The researcher did not develop any symptoms and no infection occurred as a result of the incident.”

Our questions in full and the full UNC reply are available here.

Redactions of Biosafety Committee discussions

The second reason for this lack of information is that the UNC redacted the names of Principal Investigators (PIs) whose research required biosafety scrutiny, along with many of the experimental specifics.

Nevertheless, unredacted parts of minutes from IBC meetings held in 2020 contain descriptions of experiments that potentially encompass the accident. They include:

Application 75223:

(“a full-length infectious clone” refers to a viable DNA copy of the coronavirus, which is ordinarily an RNA virus)

and

Application 73790:

and

Application 74962:

In all, any one of eight sets of different experiments approved by the UNC Chapel Hill IBC in 2020 proposed infecting mice with live infectious and mutant SARS-CoV-2-like coronaviruses under BSL-3 conditions and therefore could have led to the accident.

The thorny issue of transparency

According to Hammond the lack of transparency represented by the sparse minutes and especially the redactions represent a violation of science’s social contract:

“At the dawn of recombinant DNA, at the request of the scientific community itself, following the fabled Asilomar conference, the United States government took the position of not regulating genetic engineering in the lab.  The “deal” that big science struck with the government was that, in return for not being directly regulated, principal investigators would take personal responsibility for lab biosafety, involve the public in decision-making, and accept public accountability for their actions.

The NIH Guidelines and Institutional Biosafety Committee system of “self-regulation” by researchers is founded upon the principal of personal responsibility of PIs and the promise of transparency.  The redaction of the researchers’ identities from IBC meeting minutes, in order to hide the activities of researchers and avoid accountability for accidents, fundamentally contradicts the core principles of the US oversight system and violates the commitments that science made.”

Richard Ebright goes further:

“There is no justification for UNC’s redaction of the names of the laboratory heads and the identities of pathogens.  UNC’s redactions violate conditions UNC agreed to in exchange for NIH funding of UNC’s research and, if not corrected, should result in the termination of current NIH funding, and the loss of eligibility for future NIH funding, of UNC’s research.”

Are universities doing too many risky experiments on coronaviruses?

The second concern of researchers contacted by Independent Science News is that unnecessary and dangerous experiments will be conducted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Richard Ebright:

“The UNC incident shows that serious laboratory accidents with SARS-CoV-2 can occur even in a lab having extremely extensive experience in BSL-3 operations and unmatched expertise in coronavirus research, and underscores the risks associated with uncontrolled proliferation of research on SARS-CoV-2, especially for labs lacking prior experience in BSL-3 operations and coronavirus research.”

For this reason Ebright argues that:

“It is essential that a national needs-assessment and biosafety assessment be performed for research involving fully infectious SARS-CoV-2.  It also is essential that a risk-benefit review be performed before approving research projects involving fully infectious SARS-CoV-2–something that currently does not occur–to ensure that potential benefits to the public outweigh the real risks to laboratory workers and the public.”

This concern over risks and benefits is shared by Edward Hammond. Using FOIA again he has further discovered that researchers at the University of Pittsburgh (whose identity is redacted) plan to make what Hammond calls Corona-thrax.

In short, according to its Institutional Biosafety Committee, Pittsburgh researchers intend put the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 (which allows the virus to gain entry into human cells) into Bacillus anthracis which is the causative agent of anthrax.

The anthrax strain proposed to be used for this experiment is “disarmed” but, Hammond agrees with Gao et al., (2020) that the balance of risks and benefits appears not to be receiving adequate consideration.

This experiment was nevertheless approved by the Institutional Biosafety Committee of the University of Pittsburgh. But by redacting the name of the laboratory from the minutes and also every name of the members of the committee which approved it, the University has supplied a de facto response to the final question posed by Gao et al.: who will take responsibility for risky coronavirus research?

References

Gao, P., Ma, S., Lu, D., Mitcham, C., Jing, Y., & Wang, G. (2020). Prudently conduct the engineering and synthesis of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Synthetic and systems biotechnology5(2), 59-61.
Menachery, V. D., Yount, B. L., Debbink, K., Agnihothram, S., Gralinski, L. E., Plante, J. A., … & Randell, S. H. (2015). A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence. Nature medicine21(12), 1508-1513.
Roberts, A., Deming, D., Paddock, C. D., Cheng, A., Yount, B., Vogel, L., … & Zaki, S. R. (2007). A mouse-adapted SARS-coronavirus causes disease and mortality in BALB/c mice. PLoS Pathog3(1), e5.
Thao, T. T. N., Labroussaa, F., Ebert, N., V’kovski, P., Stalder, H., Portmann, J., … & Gultom, M. (2020). Rapid reconstruction of SARS-CoV-2 using a synthetic genomics platform. BioRxiv.

Posted with permission from Independent Science News.

Dr. Robert Kadlec: How the Czar of Biowarfare Funnels Billions to Friends in the Vaccine Industry

Organic consumers - Thu, 2020-08-13 16:12
August 13, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationAlexis Baden-MayerGenetic Engineering, Health Issues kadlec4_1200x630.png

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in our ‘Gain-of-Function Hall of Shame’ series profiling key players in gain-of-function research.

Last week, Organic Consumers Association launched its Gain of Function Hall of Shame with a profile of government scientist, Christian Hassell. Hassell chairs a secret committee known as P3CO (Potential Pandemic Pathogen Care and Oversight), which is tasked with reviewing all gain-of-function experiments, including research that could be used to develop biological weapons from bat coronaviruses. 

This week, we bring you Christian Hassell’s boss, Dr. Robert Kadlec.

Kadlec's title is Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (ASPR) for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). In that role, Kadlec oversees a multi-billion-dollar stockpile of medical countermeasures to "defend" the American people against any biological threat, whether military, criminal, natural or accidental.

The stockpile overseen by Kadlec used to be housed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. But Kadlec fought to put it under his control.

In a normal year, this would mean Kadlec managing a budget of more than $2 billion. But with COVID-19 this year, Kadlec is spending $11.5 billion just on companies’ efforts to develop, manufacture, store and deliver new vaccines.

Kadlec’s responsibilities don’t end with his role at HHS. He also plays a big role in overseeing all federal biodefense activities and budgets. And he has a long track record of doling out big contracts to his buddies in the vaccine industry.

In charge of ‘preparedness’ . . . for what?

At this point in time, there’s no hard evidence that research approved by this secret committee actually created SARS-CoV-2. 

But there’s no denying the fact that the type of research approved by the committee could have created SARS-CoV-2.

With all the secrecy surrounding the P3CO committee’s work, how would we know?

Christian Hassell chairs the P3CO committee. But he serves at the pleasure of Kadlec, who far exceeds Hassell in status and power.

Hassell allegedly sought $100 million in government funding for U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) projects on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats in labs that Hassell admitted were "in trouble for shady dealings, illegal accounting and lack of accountability.” 

But Hassell had to ask Kadlec for that money. That’s because, as noted, Kadlec is in charge of a multi-billion-dollar stockpile of medical countermeasures, formerly housed by the CDC, but now under Kadlec’s control.  

Kadlec’s role isn’t limited to HHS. Under Trump’s National Biodefense Strategy, Kadlec also leads the day-to-day coordination team of a cabinet-level steering committee overseeing all federal biodefense activities and budgets, from the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas, to the Pentagon biolaboratories in 25 countries.  

Are you a young American scientist interested in “research on mosquito-borne diseases such as Japanese encephalitis and Zika as well as on deadly food-borne pathogens including Shiga-toxin-producing Escherichia coli and potential deliberate contaminants such as Bacillus anthracis? Contact Robert Kadlec about his NBSF project “Research & Development for U.S. Bio/Agrodefense: Protecting Agriculture and Preserving Public Health.” 

Or maybe you’re an old scientist who used to work for a foreign country’s biodefense program? Kadlec can get you a job at a lab funded by the DOD to employ former biological weapons scientists in collecting bat coronaviruses. (When pressed on this by a journalist investigating mysterious deaths and nearby disease outbreaks at one of these labs, the Lugar Center in the Republic of Georgia, Kadlec insisted “the U.S. does not have a military biological weapons program.”)

Kadlec’s entire career has BEEN leading up to this moment when, due to policies he had shaped and laws he had written, he would control billions of dollars in government spending on a stockpile of medical countermeasures for biological weapons—even though he once admitted that “The commercial or public need for vaccines against biological warfare agents short of an act of terror is virtually zero.” 

Now, here Kadlec is, in the middle of the worst global pandemic in 100 years, serving as the “Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response.”

What’s Kadlec doing with the billions of dollars Congress has given him to buy the life-saving drugs and protective equipment Americans need to fight COVID-19? 

He’s funneling the money to his cronies, friends and business partners best described as arms dealers, who have been profiting from the biological weapons industrial complex for decades.

Crony capitalism pays big dividends in midst of pandemic

We’ll profile several of Kaldec’s cronies in the coming weeks. For now, we give you Fuad El-Hibri.

Fuad El-Hibri’s company, Emergent BioSolutions, has been a top recipient of government spending on biodefense since it monopolized anthrax vaccine research in the 1990s. 

Now, thanks to Kadlec, Emergent just scored a $628-million deal to help manufacture the coronavirus vaccine.

The Washington Post investigative report, “Before the Pandemic, Top Contractor Received Billions from Government to Help Prepare the Nation for Biowarfare,” tells the fascinating story of how Emergent’s annual revenues rose from $235 million in 2009, to $1.1 billion a decade later. 

From the article:

• As the sole supplier of anthrax vaccine for the federal government, Emergent was able to charge $30 per dose for BioThrax in 2017, “about five times what the company was paid under its original contract two decades earlier, accounting for inflation.”

• Emergent got a contract for the smallpox vaccine in 2017 “worth up to $2.8 billion that more than doubled the government’s cost per dose.”

How was Emergent able to command such high prices from the government? 

Monopoly power. No-bid contracts, facilitated by friends in government. Buyouts of competitors. Unparalleled spending on armies of former-military-turned-lobbyists like the admiral who helped El-Hibri corner the market on the anthrax vaccine back in the 1990s. 

It didn't hurt that Kadlec was a former Emergent consultant and founding partner with El-Hibri of the biodefense company East West Protection.

Kaldec has lavished money on El-Hibri’s Emergent BioSolutions, and other companies who paid him as a consultant, including Bavarian Nordic whose investment in its relationship to Kaldec earned it a smallpox vaccine stockpiling contract worth $539 million.  

As the Washington Post reported:

“Kadlec committed additional spending to biodefense countermeasures such as smallpox and anthrax vaccines while cutting planned spending on emerging infectious diseases, despite warnings from scientists that a natural contagion could also be devastating. Citing limited resources, his office halted an Obama-era initiative to spend $35 million to build a machine that could produce 1.5 million N95 masks per day.”

After weaponized anthrax from U.S. military labs was used to attack Congress in 2001, an appropriate response would have been to 1) limit the number of individuals and institutions with access to pathogens with pandemic potential; and 2) subject those few individuals to greatly enhanced security, transparency and oversight. 

Or, one could argue that the most reasoned response would have been to just shut this research down altogether.

Instead, billions have been pumped into the biodefense industry.

As the documentary, “Anthrax War,” shows, the U.S. military has spent decades preparing for a biological war where the weapon is anthrax. Yet so far, the only anthrax Americans have been exposed to came from our own military’s labs.

And the only harm our troops have had to defend themselves against is the vaccine injuries from squalene-laced BioThrax.  

Who came up with BioThrax? None other than a company formerly known as BioPort—since renamed Emergent BioSolutions.

BioPort was formed in 1998 by El-Hibri and partner Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. Ambassador to Britain for President Clinton.

El-Hibri and Crowe formed the company to purchase the only plant in the country making anthrax vaccines after Clinton’s Defense Secretary William S. Cohen announced that all American troops and reservists would be required to get anthrax shots in preparation for a possible invasion of Iraq. The Pentagon invested $15 million in the venture to double the plant's vaccine output.

El-Hibri had previously made anthrax vaccine for the U.K. in an arrangement going back to the privatization of parts of the British biodefense lab Porton Down during the first Gulf War. 

In its day, El-Hibri's BioPort was part of the largest private biotechnology firm in the world, Porton International. It got the rights to sell vaccines and other products developed by the U.K. government-run laboratory, the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research (CAMR), on commercial markets.

In addition to the anthrax vaccine, another well-known CAMR/Porton International product is the anti-wrinkle product botox, made from botulinum toxin. In 1997, Porton International was spun off in a partnership with the defense contractor, DynCorps, which created the DynPort Vaccine Company. A former employee said of El-Hibri’s business:

“You have to realize: BioPort and now DynPort, these are arms dealers. They are part absolutely of the military industrial complex. This is their business. They are selling to a captive audience: the Defense Department. That's all-American. All these defense contracts—they are boondoggles—and that's the American way, to make as much money as possible.”

It was Kadlec’s evil genius to expand this captive audience across the federal government into agencies including HHS and and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His coup de grace was to manage it all through a cabinet-level steering committee overseeing all federal biodefense activities and budgets.

Kadlec created the biodefense industrial complex as we know it. And he rules it like a czar.

Alexis Baden-Mayer is OCA’s political director. To keep up with OCA’s news and alerts, sign up here.

New Weedkiller Studies Raise Concern for Reproductive Health

Organic consumers - Wed, 2020-08-12 17:27
August 12, 2020U.S. Right to KnowCarey GillamGenetic Engineering, Health Issues female_reproductive_system_roundup_bottle_1200x630.jpg

As Bayer AG seeks to discount concerns that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer, several new studies are raising questions about the chemical’s potential impact on reproductive health.

An assortment of animal studies released this summer indicate that glyphosate exposures impact reproductive organs and could threaten fertility, adding fresh evidence that the weed killing agent might be an endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disrupting chemicals may mimic or interfere with the body’s hormones and are linked with developmental and reproductive problems as well as brain and immune system dysfunction.

In a paper published last month in Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, four researchers from Argentina said that studies contradict assurances by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that glyphosate is safe.

The new research comes as Bayer is attempting to settle more than 100,000 claims brought in the United States by people who allege exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicide products caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The plaintiffs in the nationwide litigation also claim Monsanto has long sought to hide the risks of its herbicides.

Bayer inherited the Roundup litigation when it bought Monsanto in 2018, shortly before the first of three trial victories for plaintiffs.

The studies also come as consumer groups work to better understand how to reduce their exposure to glyphosate through diet. A study published Aug. 11 found that after switching to an organic diet for just a few days, people could cut the levels of glyphosate found in their urine by more than 70 percent. Notably, the researchers found that the children in the study had much higher levels of glyphosate in their urine than did the adults. Both adults and children saw large drops in the presence of the pesticide following the diet change.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is the most widely used weed killer in the world. Monsanto introduced glyphosate-tolerant crops in the 1990s to encourage farmers to spray glyphosate directly over whole fields of crops, killing weeds but not the genetically altered crops. The widespread use of glyphosate, by farmers as well as homeowners, utilities and public entities, has drawn growing concern over the years because of its pervasiveness and fears about what it could be doing to human and environmental health. The chemical is now found commonly in food and water and in human urine.

According to the Argentinian scientists, some of the reported effects of glyphosate seen in the new animal studies are due to exposure to high doses; but there is new evidence showing that even low dose exposure could also alter the development of the female reproductive tract, with consequences on fertility. When animals are exposed to glyphosate before puberty, alterations are seen in the development and differentiation of ovarian follicles and the uterus, the scientists said. Additionally, exposure to herbicides made with glyphosate during gestation could alter the development of the offspring. It all adds up to show that glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides are endocrine disruptors, the researchers concluded.

Agricultural scientist Don Huber, professor emeritus from Purdue University, said the new research expands on knowledge about the potential scope of damage associated with glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides and provides a “better grasp of understanding the seriousness of the exposure that is ubiquitous in our culture now.”

Huber has warned for years that Monsanto’s Roundup might be contributing to fertility problems in livestock.

One noteworthy study published online in July in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology,  determined that glyphosate or glyphosate-based herbicides disrupted “critical hormonal and uterine molecular targets” in exposed pregnant rats.

A different study recently published in the journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology by researchers from Iowa State University looked at glyphosate exposure in mice. The researchers concluded that chronic low-level exposure to glyphosate “alters the ovarian proteome” (a set of expressed proteins in a given type of cell or organism) and “may ultimately impact ovarian function. In a related paper from the same two Iowa State researchers and one additional author, published in Reproductive Toxicology, the researchers said they did not find endocrine disrupting effects in the mice exposed to glyphosate, however.  

Researchers from the University of Georgia reported in the journal Veterinary and Animal Science that consumption by livestock of grain laced with glyphosate residues appeared to carry potential harm for the animals, according to a review of studies on the topic. Based on the literature review, glyphosate-based herbicides appear to act as “reproductive toxicants, having a wide range of effects on both the male and female reproductive systems,” the researchers said.

Alarming results were also seen in sheep. A study published in the journal Environmental Pollution looked at the impacts of glyphosate exposure on the development of the uterus in female lambs. They found changes that they said might affect the female reproductive health of sheep and show glyphosate-based herbicides acting as an endocrine disruptor.

Also published in Environmental Pollution, scientists from Finland and Spain said in a new paper that they had performed the first long-term experiment of the effects of “sub-toxic” glyphosate exposure on poultry. They experimentally exposed female and male quails to glyphosate-based herbicides from the ages of 10 days to 52 weeks.

The researchers concluded that the glyphosate herbicides could “modulate key physiological pathways, antioxidant status, testosterone, and the microbiome” but they did not detect effects on reproduction. They said the effects of glyphosate may not always be visible with “traditional, especially short-term, toxicology testing, and such testing may not fully capture the risks…”

Glyphosate and Neonicotinoids

One of the newest studies looking at glyphosate impacts on health was published this month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.  Researchers concluded that glyphosate as well as the insecticides thiacloprid and imidacloprid, were potential endocrine disruptors.

The insecticides are part of the neonicotinoid class of chemicals and are among the most heavily used insecticides in the world.

The researchers said that they monitored the effect of glyphosate and the two neonicotinoids on two critical targets of the endocrine system: Aromatase, the enzyme responsible for estrogen biosynthesis, and estrogen receptor alpha, the main protein promoting estrogen signaling.

Their results were mixed. The researchers said with respect to glyphosate, the weed killer inhibited aromatase activity but the inhibition was “partial and weak.” Importantly the researchers said glyphosate did not induce estrogenic activity. The results were “consistent” with the screening program conducted by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which concluded that “there is no convincing evidence of a potential interaction with the estrogen pathway for glyphosate,” they said.

The researchers did see estrogenic activity with imidacloprid and thiacloprid, but at concentrations higher than the pesticide levels measured in human biological samples. The researchers concluded that “low doses of these pesticides should not be considered harmless,” however, because these pesticides, together with other endocrine disrupting chemicals, “might cause an overall estrogenic effect.”

The varying findings come as many countries and localities around the world evaluate whether or not to limit or ban continued use of glyphosate herbicides.

A California appeals court ruled last month that there was “abundant” evidence that glyphosate, together with the other ingredients in Roundup products, caused cancer.

Posted with permission from U.S. Right to Know.

U.S. Study Shows Switch to Organic Diet Can Quickly Clear Pesticide From Our Bodies

Organic consumers - Tue, 2020-08-11 18:58
August 11, 2020U.S. Right to KnowCarey GillamGenetic Engineering, Health Issues farmer_harvest_organic_vegetables_1200x630.jpg

A new study published Tuesday found that after switching to an organic diet for just a few days, people could cut the levels of a pesticide linked to cancer found in their urine by more than 70 percent.

The researchers collected a total of 158 urine samples from four families –seven adults and nine children – and examined the samples for the presence of the weed killer glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Roundup and other popular herbicides. The participants spent five days on a completely non-organic diet and five days on a completely organic diet.

“This study demonstrates that shifting to an organic diet is an effective way to reduce body burden of glyphosate… This research adds to a growing body of literature indicating that an organic diet may reduce exposure to a range of pesticides in children and adults,” states the study, which was published in the journal Environmental Research.

Notably, the researchers found that the children in the study had much higher levels of glyphosate in their urine than did the adults. Both adults and children saw large drops in the presence of the pesticide following the diet change. The mean urinary glyphosate levels for all subjects dropped 70.93 percent.

Despite its small size, the study is an important one because it shows people can markedly reduce their exposures to pesticides in food even without regulatory action, said Bruce Lanphear, Professor of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University.

Lanphear noted that the study showed children appear to be more heavily exposed than adults, though the reason is unclear.  “If the food is contaminated with pesticides, they will have a higher body burden,” Lanphear said.

Roundup and other glyphosate herbicides are commonly sprayed directly over the top of growing fields of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, canola, wheat, oats and many other crops used to make food, leaving traces in finished food products consumed by people and animals.

The Food and Drug Administration has found glyphosate even in oatmeal and honey, among other products. And consumer groups have documents glyphosate residues in an array of snacks and cereals.

But glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup have been linked to cancer and other illness and disease in several studies over the years and growing awareness of the research has led to growing fears about exposure to the pesticide through the diet.

Many groups have documented the presence of glyphosate in human urine in recent years. But there have been few studies comparing glyphosate levels in people eating a conventional diet versus a diet made up only of foods grown organically, without the use of pesticides such as glyphosate.

“The outcomes of this research validate the previous research in which organic diets could minimize the intakes of agrochemicals, such as glyphosate,” said Chensheng Lu, professor, Harvard University and Southwest University in Chongqing, China.

“In my opinion, the underlying message of this paper is to encourage producing more organic foods for people who want to protect themselves from the exposure of agrochemicals. This paper has proven again this absolute right pathway for prevention and protection,” Lu said.

The study was authored by John Fagan and Larry Bohlen, both of the Health Research Institute in Iowa, along with Sharyle Patton, director of the Commonweal Biomonitoring Resource Center in California and Kendra Klein, a staff scientist at Friends of the Earth, a consumer advocacy group.

The families participating in the study live in Oakland, California, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Baltimore, Maryland and Atlanta, Georgia.

The study is the second of a two-part research project. In the first, levels of 14 different pesticides were measured in the urine of participants.

Glyphosate is of particular concern because it is the most widely used herbicide in the world and is sprayed on so many food crops. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, said in 2015 that researched showed glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen.

Tens of thousands of people have sued Monsanto claiming exposure to Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and many countries and localities around the world have recently limited or banned glyphosate herbicides or are considering doing so.

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, is attempting to settle more than 100,000 such claims brought in the United States. The plaintiffs in the nationwide litigation also claim Monsanto has long sought to hide the risks of its herbicides.

A California appeals court ruled last month that there was “abundant” evidence that glyphosate, together with the other ingredients in Roundup products, caused cancer.

Posted with permission from U.S. Right to Know.

Why We Oppose Golden Rice

Organic consumers - Mon, 2020-08-10 15:14
August 7, 2020Independent Science NewsStop Golden Rice NetworkGenetic Engineering gerice_1200x630.png

(Released on August 7, 2020 in commemoration of the International Day of Protest Against Golden Rice, now in its 7th year)

The push for corporate-led solutions to hunger and malnutrition is alarming. In particular, Golden Rice is now being proposed as a solution to the worsening hunger and malnutrition associated with the pandemic. Agrochemical transnationals (TNCs) and collaborating institutions such as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are using concerns over food security during the pandemic to push for an industrial agricultural system that is already discredited.

To quote PAN Asia Pacific:

“In the webinar, 'The future of food systems in Southeast Asia post-COVID19,' organised by IRRI and the FAO, Jean Balie, IRRI’s head of Agri-Food Policy, said that they are 'looking to increase the mineral and vitamin content in rice grains' as a response to the pandemic, alluding to renewed promotion of the genetically-modified Golden Rice, which has recently been approved for commercialization in Bangladesh and the Philippines,” said PANAP.

Golden Rice projects and applications are currently underway in three countries. On December 10, 2019, the Philippines’ Dept. of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI) issued a Golden Rice permit for Direct Use for Food, Feed and Processing. This was despite the standing challenge by farmers, scientists and civil society groups regarding Golden Rice’s unresolved safety and efficacy issues.

In August 2019, it was confirmed that Indonesia rice research centre (BB Padi) had grown Golden Rice in their testing fields in Sukamandi, West Java. But BB Padi is still awaiting permission from Indonesia’s biosafety clearing house for confined field testing in selected areas.

In Bangladesh, rumours have circulated that Golden Rice would be approved by the Biosafety Core Committee under the environment ministry last November 15, 2019. While there have been no specifics yet, proponents are optimistic that approval in Bangladesh will occur.

We, the Stop Golden Rice Network (SGRN), believe that Golden Rice is an unnecessary and unwanted technology being peddled by corporations purely for their profit-making agenda. Golden Rice will only strengthen the grip of corporations over rice and agriculture and will endanger agrobiodiversity and peoples’ health as well. Therefore, farmers, consumers and basic sectors have been campaigning against the propagation and commercialization of Golden Rice since the mid-2000s, utilizing various forms and actions, including the historical uprooting of Golden Rice field trials back in 2013.

Why is there intense opposition towards Golden Rice? 

The importance of rice in Asian countries cannot be understated; 90% of rice is produced and consumed in Asia. Rice is at the center of the social, cultural and economic activities of peoples across Asia. It is also a political commodity as rice is the staple food for a majority of the Asian population. Asian countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and India are centers of origin of more than 100,000 varieties of rice. Also considered as among the most biodiverse countries in the world, a wide array of vegetables, fruits, root crops and cereals abound in the farms and forests of these countries, ensuring a dependable source of nutrition for the families and the communities.

Yet, malnutrition is prevalent, particularly among children and women. This is not simply because of the absence of an important nutrient or vitamin. It is caused by the “lack of access to sufficient, nutritious and safe food” due to poverty, and changing food production and consumption patterns (p. 27, UN FAO, 2017).

This impact is seen in IRRI’s Green Revolution wherein many farmers across Asia have become bound to the expensive inputs and seeds peddled by huge agrochemical TNCs who promote a single-crop diet. As a result of green revolution, white rice has become dominant in once very diverse Asian diets; but white rice has a high glycemic index which causes diabetes and 60% of global diabetes cases are in Asia. Packing more nutrients, like Vitamin A, in rice, which requires more rice consumption would make this worse. Especially with the new pandemic for which diabetes is considered a risk factor for severity of Covid-19.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) identifies the dominance of large corporations over food systems as among the factors that contribute to food insecurity and malnutrition (p. 27, UN FAO, 2017). In developing countries, large tracts of agricultural lands are being converted either to industrial and commercial land uses, or to large-scale mono-cropped plantations of cash crops such as pineapples, palm oil and bananas that hardly serve the nutrition needs of the people. FAO further acknowledges that the changes in food systems and diets, such as the prevalence of highly-processed foods and displacement of traditional foods and eating habits also contributes to the worsening trend of food insecurity and malnutrition.

Given this context, we assert that Golden Rice is simply a ‘band-aid’ solution to the wide, gaping wound of hunger and poverty. Worse, the issues that continue to hound Golden Rice further prove the point that it is unnecessary and unwanted

1. Negligible beta carotene content – The current version of the Golden Rice, GR2E contains a negligible amount of beta-carotene (from 3.57 ug/g to 22 ug/g), which the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) also acknowledged, making the product useless in addressing Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) in contrast to existing and readily available food sources. Already minimal, Golden Rice’s beta-carotene was also found to degrade quickly after harvesting, storing and processing, such as milling and even cooking unless the farmers vacuum-pack and refrigerate the GM rice. Farmers from developing countries however, do not seal or store the paddy rice in vacuum packs, which will make the product more expensive. Electricity also remains scarce in remote farming communities so refrigerating the harvest is unrealistic bordering on the absurd.

2. No meaningful safety tests have been done – Even as the Golden Rice has been approved in the Philippines, there has been no testing done to ascertain if it is safe for human consumption. Meanwhile, the aforementioned beta-carotene degradation may result in toxic compounds causing oxidative stress damage which might lead to cancer. Dr. David Schubert of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, USA and Dr. Michael Antoniou of King’s College London, state that “there have never been short nor, more importantly, long-term safety testing in laboratory animals (of Golden Rice) and this must be done for several generations in rats to determine if it causes birth defects, which we consider a serious possibility.”

3. Contamination of other rice varieties and wild relatives of rice – Field trials conducted so far have only looked at the agronomic traits of Golden Rice, and not its long-term effects on the environment, including its possible effects on the genetic diversity of the thousands of rice varieties being cared for by small scale farmers and indigenous peoples. While rice is a self-pollinating crop, cross-contamination is still inevitable Contamination can also occur through seed mixing. Such contamination has already happened in the US with the Liberty Link rice scandal back in 2006 that caused US farmers millions of dollars in losses because of the inadvertent contamination of the yet unapproved GM rice.

4. Safer sources of beta-carotene – Being some of the mega-diverse countries, vegetables and fruits that are high in beta-carotene are found in abundance in the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India and other target countries for Golden Rice. These foods are available and accessible for the people, and contain much higher levels of beta-carotene than Golden Rice.

The worsening land-grabbing and land conversion cases, liberalization of agricultural commodities and increasing control of corporations over agriculture and food, however, are preventing farmers and their communities from having access to these safe and nutritious foods. In developing countries the challenges described above remain the main culprit of food insecurity and malnutrition. Both the development of biofortified crops like Golden Rice for solving health issues and corporate led projects in agriculture as ways to ensure food security represent a worrisome push for top-down and anti-diversity approaches to food and health that will ultimately undermine people’s capacities to strengthen their local food systems. By emphasizing dependence on just a few market-based crops biofortification actually promotes a poor diet with little nutritional diversity

Golden Rice is a failed and useless product, and that is why we continue to resist and oppose it. Time and again, huge agrochemical companies, philanthrocapitalists and pseudo-public agencies have done everything in their power to deny the people’s right to participate in decisions about their food and agriculture. Already, zinc and iron GM rice and thirty other GM rice are in the pipeline, with Golden Rice serving as the Trojan Horse to lure the people into social acceptance and false security.

More than resisting the release of Golden Rice however, we are pushing for safer, better and healthier alternatives to addressing VAD and other malnutrition issues. VAD and other malnutrition problems can be mitigated and addressed by having a diverse diet. Nutrition does not need to be an expensive commodity, nor rely on advanced technology. We believe that instead of pushing Golden Rice and biofortifying crops through genetic modification, governments should promote biodiversity in farms and on tables by supporting safe, healthy and sustainable food production. We are also calling on governments to pay attention to the needs of our food producers, including facilitating access to lands to till, appropriate technologies and an agriculture policy that will promote and uphold the people’s right to food and the nations’ food sovereignty.

Stop Golden Rice Network (SGRN)

Members include:

AGRA (Alliance of Agrarian Reform Movement), Indonesia
APC (Asian Peasants Coalition)
APVUU (Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union), India
BAFLF (Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation), Bangladesh
Bangladesh Krishok Federation, Bangladesh
BINA DESA, Indonesia
CENDI (Community Entrepreneur Development Institute), Vietnam
Consumers Union of Japan, Japan
GM Free India Coalition, India
GRAIN
HEAD (Health Action for Democracy), Philippines
KMP (Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas), Philippines
Labour Resource Center (LRC), Bangladesh
MASIPAG (Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura), Philippines
MONLAR, Sri Lanka
Narasimha Reddy Donthi, Telangana, India
NWFA (National Women Farmers and Workers Association), Bangladesh
ORRISSA (Organization for Rural Reconstruction and Integrated Social Services Activities), India
PAN Phils (Pesticide Action Network-Phils)
PANAP (Pesticide Action Network-Asia Pacific)
Peoples Coalition on Food Sovereignty, Global
PNSFP (Philippine Network for Food Security Programs)
RESIST! Agri-TNCs Network, Philippines
Save Our Rice Network, India
SERUNI (National Women’s Alliance), Indonesia
SHISUK (Shikha Shastha Unnayan Karzakram), Bangladesh
SIBAT (Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya), Philippines
SPFT (Southern Peasants Federation of Thailand), Thailand
SRD (Center for Sustainable Rural Development), Vietnam
TFIP (Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples Rights)
THANAL, India
Save Our Rice campaign, India
Women’s Development Federation (WELIGEPOLA), Sri Lanka

Sources:

Beta-carotene degradation products – formation, toxicity and prevention of toxicity. Siems W, Salerno C, Crifò C, Sommerburg O, Wiswedel I. (2009) Forum Nutr. 61: 75-86.

Farmers and consumers urge regulatory body to halt Golden Rice release. 2019 October 16. http://masipag.org/2019/10/farmers-and-consumers-urge-regulatory-body-to-halt-golden-rice-release/

FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2017. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017. Building resilience for peace and food security. Rome, FAO. http://www.fao.org/3/a-I7695e.pdf

GRAIN, “Biofortified crops or biodiversity? The fight for genuine solutions to malnutrition is on” 2019.

GM ‘golden rice’ opponents wicked, says Minister Owen Paterson. (2013, October 14). BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-24515938

Kinetics of β-carotene degradation under different storage conditions in transgenic Golden Rice® lines. Bollinedi, H., Dhakane-Lad, J., Krishnan, S.G., Bhowmick, P.K., Prabhu, K.V., Singh, N.K., and Singh, A.K. (2019). Food Chemistry 278, 773-779. https://sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814618320661

Liberty Link Rice: The Scandal that Woke Up the World. (2006, August 27). Retrieved from https://dev.panap.net/sites/default/files/rs_libertylink_1.pdf

The Global Pipeline of GM crops: an outlook for 2020. Claudia Parisi, Pascal Tillie, Emilio Rodriguez-Cerezo, European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC), Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), Edificio Expo, C/Inca Garcilaso 3. 41092, Seville, Spain

Who paid for the golden rice eco-attack? (2013, August 21). CFact.Retrieved from https://www.cfact.org/2013/08/21/who-paid-for-the-golden-rice-eco-attack/

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/11/bangladesh-could-be-first-cultivate-golden-rice-genetically-altered-fight-blindness

https://www.grain.org/en/article/5064-how-does-the-gates-foundation-spend-its-money-to-feed-the-world

https://www.grain.org/en/article/6246-biofortified-crops-or-biodiversity-the-fight-for-genuine-solutions-to-malnutrition-is-on

https://panap.net/2020/05/business-as-usual-for-agrochemical-industry-damaging-to-biodiversity-farmers/

Reposted with permission from Independent Science News.

Christian ‘Risks-Be-Damned’ Hassell: Pushing Dangerous, Taxpayer-Funded Genetic Engineering and Gain-of-Function Research

Organic consumers - Thu, 2020-08-06 16:40
August 6, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationAlexis Baden-Mayer and Ronnie CumminsHealth Issues bytes-1200x630-biohazzard-hassle.png

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in our ‘Gain of Function Hall of Shame’ series highlighting key players in gain-of-function research.

Any scientific lab work that involves making pathogens more lethal, contagious, infectious, or resistant to disease—even when done, ostensibly, for defensive purposes or medical countermeasures development—is really too risky to do at all.

Especially when you consider that 30 years’ worth of gain-of-function research has produced no vaccine, and no cure for a pandemic.

But perhaps an even better reason to stop experiments that could be used to create biological weapons, or the next pandemic, is the large number of high-profile—some accidental, some nefarious—releases of deadly pathogens from U.S. labs.

One U.S. government scientist who’s been linked, at least indirectly, with at least one gain-of-function research lab failure is Dr. Christian Hassell. 

Yet despite his questionable track record on safety, Hassell still holds the power to secretly exert major control over the so-called “biodefense” industry—by deciding which research gets approved and which corporations receive government contracts.

Hassell, who has a Ph.D in analytical chemistry, is one of the nation’s top experts on biological weapons research. He got his start at DuPont as a Senior Research Chemist (1991-2000). It was his work there, which included developing automated analysis methods for fermentation processes, that “got him interested in the detection of warfare agents.”

After nine years at DuPont, Hassell joined the technical staff of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (2000-2005). While at Los Alamos, he served as an intelligence analyst with the Department of Energy Field Intelligence Element. In that capacity, he was assigned to the Iraq Survey Group in Baghdad, an international team organized by the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to find evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They found none.

Beginning in 2001, Hassell’s career took a more controversial turn. It started with his role in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's botched Amerithrax investigation (2001-2008). 

Controversy continues to follow him. Today, in his current role in the Trump administration, Hassell has been accused by a whistleblower of surreptitiously seeking $100 million in government funding for DOD projects on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats in labs that he admitted were "in trouble for shady dealings, illegal accounting and lack of accountability.”

Let’s start with the anthrax investigation, which the FBI also refers to “Amerithrax.”

Amerithrax: When U.S. biological weapons were used on U.S. citizens

The 2001 Amerithrax attack is arguably the most famous and politically consequential biological weapons attack in U.S. history. 

Letters laced with anthrax, dated September 11, 2001, were sent through the U.S. mail to journalists and news outlets, and to two U.S. Senators, both Democrats—Jim Leahy (D-Vt.) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.)

In all, 22 people, including 12 mail handlers, were sickened by the attacks. Five people died.

It was an act of domestic terrorism—and an inside job. 

Someone with access to weaponized anthrax, created in a U.S. military lab, used the anthrax to attack U.S. citizens, including Leahy and Daschle—both of whom had publicly raised objections to the proposed Bush-Cheney Patriot Act, rushed through Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. 

The crime remains unsolved. But the biological weapon used in the attacks matched the so-called Ames anthrax used by U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, the U.S, Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Maryland, defense contractor Battelle Memorial Institute in Ohio, and between 20 - 50 other U.S. labs involved in anthrax research.

It should have been relatively easy to find domestic terrorists operating from within this group of U.S. military and defense contractor labs. Yet the FBI ended its investigation without solving the case.

By all accounts, the FBI botched the Amerithrax investigation. We know this now, thanks to a whistleblower complaint, filed confidentially in the midst of the investigation, by Richard L. Lambert.

In 2006, Lambert, who spent 24 years at the FBI—four of them running the anthrax investigation—filed a formal complaint with the FBI’s deputy director. As he told the New York Times in 2015, in his complaint he informed his superiors that:

“ . . . the effort was understaffed and plagued by turnover, and that 12 of 20 agents assigned to the case had no prior investigative experience. Senior bureau microbiologists were not made available, and two Ph.D. microbiologists who were put on the case were then removed for an 18-month Arabic language program in Israel. Fear of leaks led top officials to order the extreme compartmentalization of information, with investigators often unable to compare notes and share findings with colleagues.”

Lambert said the bureau kept secret “a staggering amount of exculpatory evidence” regarding their chief suspect, Dr. Bruce Ivins, a U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases researcher.

After Ivins committed suicide, in 2008, the FBI closed its case. An investigation into the investigation followed. Some involved in the case maintain that Ivins was framed, and that he was innocent.

Perpetuating the ‘lone scientist’ theory

Where does Hassell fit into the Amerithrax saga?  

As the FBI’s new laboratory director, Hassell had the rather ignominious, albeit strategic job of defending the bureau’s handling of the Amerithrax investigation.

But Hassell wasn’t completely forthcoming in response to the National Academies of Sciences’ requests for information.

Still, if Hassell was attempting a cover-up, he didn’t succeed.

As Edward Jay Epstein wrote in his book, “The Annals of Unsolved Crime”:

“The National Academies of Sciences report concluded that the FBI’s key assertion that its genetic fingerprinting showed that the killer anthrax could only have come from the flask in Ivins’ custody was flawed. ‘The scientific data alone do not support the strength of the government’s repeated assertions that RMR-1029 was conclusively identified as the parent material to the anthrax powder used in the mailings,’ it stated. ‘It is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the B. anthracis in the mailings based on the available scientific evidence alone.’”

Was the 2001 Amerithrax attack an inside job? Or was it an attempt by rogue elements in the military and the Bush-Cheney Administration to create panic in the Congress, media and the general public? So the administration could ram through the Patriot Act with little or no opposition?

We’ll likely never know exactly “whodunnit.” 

But we do know that Amerithrax happened because the U.S. military engaged in biological weapons proliferation. 

We also know that if the military’s anthrax hadn’t been used in the 2001 attacks, most people would never have known that anthrax was being weaponized by the military in U.S. labs.

Once the news did get out, labs like the ones at Dugway Proving Ground, Battelle Memorial Institute and Fort Detrick, should have been shut down. Instead Amerithrax was used to justify the expansion and proliferation of such labs and their work, under the guise of finding a cure—for an outbreak that wouldn’t have occurred in the first place, if “biodefense” labs hadn’t weaponized anthrax.

Scientists like Hassell who tried to hide the truth should have been fired and prosecuted. Instead, Hassell rose through the ranks. To this day, he perpetuates the myth that the Amerithrax attack was carried out by a lone mad scientist, Bruce Ivins. 

In recent years, Hassell has talked about the events of 2001 as if the anthrax attacks were perpetrated by foreign agents instead of American government personnel—as if the biological weapon used in the attack had been manufactured abroad rather than on domestic U.S. military bases. 

After wrapping up the FBI’s Amerithrax cover-up, Hassell became Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Chemical and Biological Defense. At the opening of a biodefense facility in Florida, in 2016, Hassell stuck to his lone scientist story:

“The purpose and the capability of this facility is really fundamentally to avoid a surprise and be better prepared. Sixty years after Pearl Harbor we were surprised again with the anthrax mailings and other events of 9/11, so this whole issue of surprise is a common area of discussion, what can we do to avoid surprise, to defend it, to respond to it more effectively and to that end this facility is very important to our capability to do that.”

Hassell’s big lie is that we can somehow protect ourselves against biological weapons by manufacturing biological weapons.

After Amerithrax, the recklessness goes on

Hassell’s big lie is especially nefarious, given what he knows about the accidental laboratory releases of anthrax and other potential bioweapons that have occurred since Amerithrax—and under his watch.

Since Amerithrax, it’s been one incident after another at U.S. biological weapons labs.

In 2014, just as news was emerging about security breaches and accidental releases at U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) labs involving anthrax, Hassell started his job at the DOD as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Chemical and Biological Programs. 

By 2015, Hassell found himself testifying before Congress after the CDC found that a U.S. Army lab at Dugway Proving Ground had shipped live anthrax “over a 12-year period to 194 laboratories in 50 states, the District of Columbia, three U.S. territories and nine foreign countries.”

In all, the CDC tracked 575 shipments of presumed inactivated anthrax material—which turned out to include live anthrax. 

At a Congressional hearing, Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), now retired but then-chair of the Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations said:

“As Yogi Bera said, ‘It’s like déjà vu all over again.’ Last year we held a similar hearing on a CDC anthrax incident that potentially exposed dozens of CDC researchers to live anthrax due to the fact that established safety procedures were not followed. During the hearing CDC Director Frieden testified, ‘We will take every step possible to prevent any future incident that could put our laboratory scientists and public at risk.’ Yet here we are again today. We also examined the CDC’s mistaken shipment of highly pathogenic avian flu and the FDA’s discovery of vials of smallpox in the NIH building. Months after our hearing, and after the White House ordered a safety stand down and laboratory sweep of all federal labs, the CDC revealed there had been a transfer of ebola from a CDC 4 lab to a CDC 2 lab. Despite the growing number of red flags, these incidents keep happening . . . 

 “As I said at last year’s hearing, this is completely unacceptable. These dangerous safety lapses at our high-containment labs are threatening our nation’s security and public health . . .

 “As I said a year ago what we have here is a pattern of recurring issues of complacency and a lax culture of safety. Last year, CDC Director Frieden stated that this was a wake-up call. However, it appears that critical government agencies have hit the snooze button once again. What’s it going to take to change things this time? And when? None of us want to be here again a year from now discussing another set of safety lapses and—heaven forbid—a loss of life.”

Murphy offered a solution: the recommendations of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on oversight of high-containment labs, including the creation of national standards for designing, constructing, commissioning and maintaining such labs.

To date, the GAO’s recommendations have been ignored.

In February 2020, the GAO released the latest in a long string of reports arguing for change, which states:

“We—along with congressional committees—have, for many years, identified challenges and areas for improvement related to the safety, security and oversight of high-containment laboratories. For example, in response to reported lapses in laboratory safety at HHS and DOD in 2014 and 2015, we examined how federal departments oversee their high-containment laboratories and found that most of the 8 departments and 15 agencies that we reviewed had policies that were not comprehensive or were not up to date. Additionally, we found that while the departments and agencies we reviewed primarily used inspections to oversee their high-containment laboratories, some of them were not routinely reporting inspection results, laboratory incidents, and other oversight activities to senior officials.

"In October 2017, we found that the Federal Select Agent Program—jointly managed by HHS and USDA—oversees laboratories’ handling of certain hazardous pathogens known as select agents and toxins, but the program does not fully meet all key elements of effective oversight. For example, the Federal Select Agent Program was not independent from all laboratories it oversees, and it had not assessed risks posed by its current structure or the effectiveness of its mechanisms to reduce organizational conflicts of interest. In June 2019, we said the National Biodefense Strategy highlights the need for continuous improvement of biosafety and biosecurity for laboratories and other facilities, creating an opportunity for interagency partners to develop additional oversight or other practices to mitigate the risk of bio incidents at high-containment laboratories.”

Lack of oversight? Who, me?

Hassell shares the blame for the lack of oversight exposed by the GAO report. Yet after he testified, instead of taking action to implement the GAO recommendations as Murphy urged, he found a scapegoat. 

Hassell saw to it that Brig. Gen. William King, who had commanded the Dugway lab as a colonel for only two years, from July 2009 to July 2011, was reprimanded “for failing to take appropriate action to respond to and mitigate lapses in safety and protocol.” 

Hassell then directed the transfer of the command of operations at Dugway to the Edgewood Biological Center at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Ironically, this is where King was working, at the time of his reprimand, as commander of the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive (CBRNE) Command. The reprimand didn’t prevent King from continuing to serve in that role. Instead, it appears that King’s punishment for his oversight failures at Dugway was to clean them up at Aberdeen.

A year after his “reprimand,” King celebrated the construction of a new headquarters for CBRNE. He told the Baltimore Sun at the time that CBRNE developed out of "lessons learned" during the beginning of the Iraq War, when U.S. officials suspected Saddam Hussein had chemical or biological weapons that could be used by terrorists to attack America.

Never mind that the real lesson learned, confirmed by the Iraq Survey Group, was that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction—and that our bloody, costly war and occupation of Iraq, which continues through the present, was based upon lies and fabricated evidence.

King’s “reprimand” may not have been harsh. But he did get called out by DufflelBlog.com, a satire site similar to The Onion. In an article titled, “Retiring general starts mail-order Anthrax delivery service,” the author wrote:

“King plans to expand the business once the Anthrax portion is firmly established.

‘Eventually I want to deliver all manner of biological weapons,’ King explained. ‘Tularemia, botulism, Ebola, Marburg Variant U, smallpox, even more esoteric and untraceable stuff like weapons based on peptides and interferon. Stuff the human body produces naturally so it’s literally impossible to tell if they were hit with one of my weapons or just had a heart attack. It’s really going to revolutionize the biological weaponry market.

“‘The only thing I still have to work on is a good, reliable tracking system,’ he added. ‘So we don’t lose anything.’”

The truth isn’t too far from what DuffleBlog writes. But instead of selling anthrax to terrorists, now that King is retired from the military, he sells “biodefense” products on behalf of the private sector to the government—in his role as chairman of the board at the trade association CBRNE Industry Group.

As Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Chemical and Biological Defense responsible for the Chemical and Biological Defense Program from 2014-2019, one of Hassell’s roles was to communicate funding opportunities to private sector industry trade groups like King’s CBRNE Industry Group.

Here’s a video of Hassell speaking at the 2017 Chemical and Biological Defense Science & Technology Conference. This was a conference that “brought 1400 scientists, program managers and leaders together from across the globe to confront chemical and biological defense challenges to make the world safer.” 

The conference tagline? “Today’s Innovations, Tomorrow’s Warfighter Capabilities.”

Here’s what Hassell told fellow conference-goers:

“I’m here to talk about the Secretary of Defense’s priorities. … His first priority is lethality. … Lethality is a little awkward for us, because our program, by and large, is for force protection, and just for the record we do not have an offensive biological and chemical program, period. But the way I interpret that and the way we are positioning that whole idea is that the thing that differentiates the DOD mission in chem-bio in some respects from say the DHS or HHS mission is that it’s not just enough to protect our force, to survive, but it’s to protect them to fulfill their mission. They just can’t wear a suit and hunker down and hope that the threat passes. They’ve got to be able to move out.”

The official position of the DOD is that, while biological weapons were outlawed long ago, we have to assume that other countries that joined us in ratifying the BWC are going to be producing them anyway and/or that a “terrorist” could make or obtain them. 

Using that logic, the DOD maintains that we should prepare all 2.2 million active troops and reservists for biological warfare. 

Risky research, funded by taxpayers—and shrouded in secrecy

As we reported (“COVID-19—Reckless ‘Gain-of-Function’ Experiments Lie at the Root of the Pandemic,” July 23, 2020), Trump faced a public relations nightmare when news broke that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV)—which Trump had fingered as the source of what he called China’s “kung flu”—was being paid by his administration through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

Trump subsequently made a big show of cutting funding for EcoHealth Alliance, an NIH grantee that had subcontracted with the Wuhan lab. 

What Trump didn’t do was take any action regarding the Potential Pandemic Pathogen Care & Oversight Review Committee (P3CO), a secret committee that continues to direct NIH funding to controversial gain-of-function research, the type used to make biological weapons. 

As we write this today, the WIV could well be receiving money from the NIH through the secret P3CO committee. 

But we wouldn’t know. Because P3CO’s committee members, its reviews and its decisions are all secret. 

It’s possible Trump knows nothing about this, but his deputies, including Christian Hassell and Robert Kadlec, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Service, do know. (Kadlec deserves his own profile in the Gain-of-Function Hall of Shame. Stay tuned).

Unlike the military’s Chemical and Biological Defense Program, which is opaque and doesn’t put the dodgy labs it funds (the ones that Hassell said were "in trouble for shady dealings, illegal accounting, and lack of accountability" even as he worked to get them more money) through a public process, the NIH is supposedly vetting gain-of-function research under the 2017 “Framework for Guiding Funding Decisions about Proposed Research Involving Enhanced Potential Pandemic Pathogens.”

In practice, the process is secret. Nothing was known about how the Framework was being implemented until 2019, when news of the first approved studies was leaked to Science Magazine. 

This was disturbing to scientists Marc Lipsitch and Tom Inglesby, both of whom had advocated for the Framework, especially as the Framework was imposed as a condition on ending a temporary moratorium on gain-of-function research. 

In their Washington Post opinion piece, “The U.S. Is Funding Dangerous Experiments It Doesn’t Want You to Know About,” Lipsitch and Inglesby wrote:

“This secrecy means we don’t know how these requirements were applied, if at all, to the experiments now funded by the government. A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Human Services told Science magazine that the agency cannot make the reviews public because doing so might reveal proprietary information about the applicants’ plans that could help their competitors. This bureaucratic logic implies that it is more important to maintain the trade secrets of a few prominent scientists than to let citizens—who bear the risk if an accident happens and who fund their work—scrutinize the decisions of public officials about whether these studies are worth the risk.”

The Department of Health and Human Services “spokesperson” referred to by Lipsitch and Ingleby is Hassell.

The risk Lipsitch and Ingleby accused Hassell of ignoring—“creating potentially pandemic pathogens creates a risk—albeit a small one—of infecting millions of people with a highly dangerous virus”—became all the more glaring once the SARS-COV-2 was circling the globe. 

For damage control, in January 2020, Hassell convened a meeting of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, ostensibly to address demands Lipsitch and Inglesby were making for more transparency PC30 committee.

Very little was learned about the P3CO committee at this meeting, other than that Kadlec appointed Hassell chair and that, in addition to Kadlec, the committee reports to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Trump's science advisor. Hassell also gave credit for the P3CO to Patricia Delarosa.

Patricia Delarosa is the Supervisory Microbiologist at the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), the state-of-the-art high-containment lab intended to replace the Cold War-era Plum Island Animal Disease Center. Plum Island is the lab infamous for creating Lyme Disease. NBAF is being constructed on the Kansas State University campus right next to the Biosecurity Research Institute (BRI).

BRI is the designated facility at Kansas State for work on organisms classified by the U.S. government as Select Agents. These are agents that have the potential to be weaponized. They require specialized facilities and highly trained personnel to ensure constant safety and security. 

Kadlec and Hassell are each running projects at BRI.

Hassell’s project, “Priority Zoonotic Animal Drugs,“ has allowed Kansas State scientists to jump-start research on pathogens designated to be worked on at NBAF.

Hassell’s research “ . . . has included the zoonotic diseases Rift Valley fever (RVF) and Japanese encephalitis (JE), as well as the non-zoonotic diseases African swine fever (ASF) and classical swine fever (CSF). To date, there have been 75 research publications on this NBAF-related work, including 27 on RVF and 8 on JE since 2013.” 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which is funding the construction of the NBAF, estimated a 70-percent chance that within the lab’s 50-year lifespan an accidental release from the lab could cause a disaster with an economic impact of $9-50 billion. 

As Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson recently reported in Independent Science News, when a National Research Council committee inspected these DHS estimates they concluded “the risks and costs could well be significantly higher than that.”

Worth the risk? We don’t think so. Please sign our petition demanding a global ban on gain-of-function research.

Alexis Baden-Mayer is OCA’s political director. To keep up with OCA’s news and alerts, sign up here.

 Ronnie Cummins is co-founder of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and Regeneration International, and the author of “Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Food, Farming, Climate and a Green New Deal.”

Coca-Cola Front Group Tried to Obscure Coke’s Funding & Key Role, Study Says

Organic consumers - Wed, 2020-08-05 15:31
August 3, 2020U.S. Right to KnowGary RuskinHealth Issues coca_cola_can_highway_bridge_1200x630.jpg

For Immediate Release: Monday, August 3rd 2020 at 11am EDT
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin +1 415 944 7350

Coca-Cola Front Group Tried to Obscure Coke’s Funding & Key Role, Study Says

Coca-Cola Kept “Email Family” of Public Health Academic Allies

Coca-Cola Co. and academics at its front group Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) tried to obscure Coke’s central role and funding for the group, according to a new study published today in Public Health Nutrition. Coke and the academics tried to dilute the apparent size of Coke’s $1.5 million contribution as well as the company’s role in creating the GEBN. Coke also maintained an “email family” of public health academics whom Coke used to promote its interests.

The study was based on documents obtained via state public records requests by U.S. Right to Know, an investigative public health and consumer group. Coke created the GEBN to downplay the links between obesity and sugary drinks, as a part of its “war” with the public health community. GEBN went defunct in 2015.

“This is a story about how Coke used public health academics to carry out classic tobacco tactics to protect its profits,” said Gary Ruskin, executive director of U.S. Right to Know. “It’s a low point in the history of public health, and a warning about the perils of accepting corporate funding for public health work.”

Regarding Coke’s funding, John Peters, a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, stated: “We are certainly going to have to disclose this [Coca-Cola funding] at some point. Our preference would be to have other funders on board first…Right now, we have two funders. Coca Cola and an anonymous individual donor….Jim [Hill] and Steve [Blair], does including the Universities as funders/supporters pass the red face test?”

In another email, John Peters explains, “We are managing some GEBN inquiries and while we disclose Coke as a sponsor we don’t want to disclose how much they gave.”

The paper also provides evidence of Coke’s leadership of a tight-knit group of public health academics who issued research and public relations messaging supportive of Coke. Rhona Applebaum, then-VP and chief science and health officer at Coke, used the term “email family” to describe the network. The paper states that, “Coca-Cola supported a network of academics, as an ‘email family’ that promoted messages associated with its public relations strategy, and sought to support those academics in advancing their careers and building their affiliated public health and medical institutions.”

“Coke’s ‘email family’ is just the latest example of the appalling commercialization of the university and public health work,” Ruskin said. “Public health academics in an email family with Coke is like criminologists in an email family with Al Capone.”

Today’s study in Public Health Nutrition is titled “Evaluating Coca-Cola’s attempts to influence public health ‘in their own words’: analysis of Coca-Cola emails with public health academics leading the Global Energy Balance Network.” It was co-authored by Paulo Serôdio, research fellow at the University of Barcelona; Gary Ruskin, executive director of U.S. Right to Know; Martin McKee, professor of European public health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; and David Stuckler, professor at Bocconi University.

The co-authors of today’s study also wrote a study about Coke and GEBN for the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health titled “Science organisations and Coca-Cola’s ‘war’ with the public health community: insights from an internal industry document.”

Documents from this study are available at the UCSF Food Industry Documents Archive, in the U.S. Right to Know Food Industry Collection, at https://www.industrydocuments.ucsf.edu/food/collections/usrtk-food-industry-collection/.

For more information about U.S. Right to Know, see our academic papers at https://usrtk.org/academic-work/. For more general information, see usrtk.org.

Posted with permission from U.S. Right to Know.

You Have a Right to Know About Where This Product Comes From

Organic consumers - Wed, 2020-08-05 15:23
August 5, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationKatherine PaulFood Safety ducktrap-article-image.png

Should the labeling and marketing claims about your smoked Atlantic salmon product match up with your reasonable expectations for what those claims mean?

We think so. 

That’s why we’ve sued Mowi, the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon products, for making misleading labeling and marketing claims about some of the company’s smoked Atlantic salmon products, sold under Ducktrap River of Maine brand name.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Ducktrap: Stop Falsely Claiming Your Smoked Atlantic Salmon Is 'All Natural'

With so many products and brands to choose from, many consumers rely on product labels, company and brand websites and social media pages for reliable information about ingredients and production and sourcing practices.

Our “Myth of Natural” campaign strives to hold companies and brands accountable for the claims they make about their products.

When it comes to fish, consumers have ranked the “minimal use of hormones and drugs,” “no pollution to the environment,” and “respect of fish welfare” as three of the four most important elements of sustainable aquaculture.

By those standards, consumers would be unlikely to give Mowi or Ducktrap a high ranking.

Let’s look at some of Mowi and Ducktrap’s claims, and why we believe they’re misleading to consumers.

1. Mowi claims that some of its Ducktrap smoked Atlantic salmon products, sourced from industrial fish farms, are “All Natural” or “100% Natural.” 

But according to Mowi’s own audit documents, some of the fish farms that supply Mowi and Ducktrap treat the salmon with artificial chemicals, including pesticides and antibiotics.

Mowi also uses chemical disinfectants, including formaldehyde-based formalin (a known carcinogen) and bleach.

2. Mowi makes sustainability claims about Ducktrap smoked Atlantic salmon, using words like “sustainably sourced” and “eco-friendly.”

Yet Mowi sources salmon from farms that use open-net pens, which are banned in numerous jurisdictions due to concerns over environmental risks.

3. Mowi claims that its Ducktrap River of Maine Atlantic smoked salmon is “The finest naturally smoked seafood from the coast of Maine.”

Yet Mowi sources all of its farmed salmon from industrial salmon farms outside the U.S., including in Chile, Norway, Scotland and Iceland.

4. Mowi claims that the company’s approach to fish health and welfare is “second to none.” 

Yet when it comes to animal welfare, Mowi gets low marks. As we allege in our lawsuit, conditions at Mowi facilities in Scotland have been rated by animal charity OneKind as some of the industry’s worst due to mortality rates, parasite infestations, stress levels, overstocking, genetic deformities and escapes, among other factors.

It’s time for Mowi and Ducktrap to stop misleading consumers.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Ducktrap: Stop Falsely Claiming Your Smoked Atlantic Salmon Is 'All Natural'

Big Beef: You May Not Recognize the Name. But This Bad Actor’s Meat Is Sold Everywhere—Except by Your Local Grass-Fed Farmer or Rancher.

Organic consumers - Fri, 2020-07-31 15:40
July 31, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationKatherine PaulEnvironment & Climate, CAFOs vs. Free Range jbs-bytes-image.png

You’ve never seen this company’s name on a package of ground beef or steak. That’s because the world’s largest beef producer, JBS, doesn’t sell beef under its own name. 

But U.S. consumers buy millions of pounds of JBS beef every year, under brand names like Cedar River Farms, Swift Black Angus, 5 Star Reserve and others, in stores like Costco, Walmart and Kroger, to name a few.

Consumers also unknowingly support JBS when they buy burgers at fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King, and at other restaurants supplied by the meat giant. 

JBS isupplies Sysco, the world’s largest food distributor, which distributes to hundreds of  restaurants, hospitals and nursing homes, schools and hotels.

Sysco, in turn, wholesales JBS meat and other food products to Aramark and Sodexo, food distribution companies that in turn supply institutions like schools, hospitals, government agencies, prisons and more.

JBS is big. In fact it’s the biggest of the world’s Big Meat companies.

JBS also has some big problems. 

According to this July 2019 report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

“When it comes to scandals, you can take your pick—during its rapid rise to become the world’s biggest meatpacker, JBS and its network of subsidiaries have been linked to allegations of high-level corruption, modern-day 'slave labour' practices, illegal deforestation, animal welfare violations and major hygiene breaches. In 2017 its holding company agreed to pay one of the biggest fines in global corporate history—$3.2bn—after admitting bribing hundreds of politicians. Yet the company’s products remain on supermarket shelves across the world, and its global dominance only looks set to grow further.”

This week, the Bureau reported on yet another JBS scandal, a tale of “skinny cows” and fat lies. A story that highlights the meat giant’s role in burning down the Amazon Rainforest, the “lungs of the planet.”

Given how far JBS’s tentacles reach, you may think it’s impossible to avoid supporting the company—no matter how corrupt, exploitative and destructive its practices.

But you can boycott this Big Meat companyBy thinking small. By making it a point to find out where your steak and burgers come from. And by aligning your meat purchase with your values.

Burning the Amazon for ‘cheap’ burgers

There are plenty of reasons to #BoycottBigMeat, including these two: to protect wildlife and plant biodiversity, and to protect against climate stability.

This week’s report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism uncovers how JBS fails in both of those categories. 

The report also reveals the hypocrisy of the meat giant’s claims about believing that “sustainability involves continuously improving social responsibility, economic viability and environmental stewardship.”

According to Mongabay, a nonprofit environmental science and conservation news platform, since 1978, more than 289,000 square miles of Amazon rainforest have been destroyed. Much of that destruction is attributed to industrial agriculture. 

By the 2000s, Mongabay reports, more than three-quarters of forest-clearing in the Amazon was for cattle-ranching.

All that destruction of the “lungs of the planet” wipes out critical plant and animal species, and contributes to global warming. According to Thomas Lovejoy, an ecologist working on the Amazon for more than half a century:

“This biodiversity is important globally. Every species in this incredibly biodiverse system represents solutions to a set of biological challenges—any one of which has transformative potential and could generate global human benefits.”

Last year, the Washington Post reported on how fires in the Amazon were destroying biodiversity and leading to “a clear spike in carbon monoxide emissions as well as planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions, posing a threat to human health and aggravating global warming.”

This week, the Post reported on record-breaking, “blistering”  temperatures in places like Baghdad and Phoenix, Arizona. The Post attributed the debilitating excessive heat to a ridge of high pressure anchored over the Middle East, drifting west over the Red Sea toward Egypt. But the report also noted:

"While heat records can occur thanks solely to natural variability, they are disproportionately more likely to occur thanks to warming effects of climate change. Moreover, the human contribution of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere has knocked the earth’s relative balance of cold-and-warm anomalies off-kilter, skewing the planet strongly hot."

JBS’s ‘skinny cow’ laundering scheme

So what do the Amazon and global warming have to do with JBS and your burgers and steaks?

The Yale School of Environment reports this:

“Cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in every Amazon country, accounting for 80 percent of current deforestation rates. Amazon Brazil is home to approximately 200 million head of cattle, and is the largest exporter in the world, supplying about one quarter of the global market.”

Brazil-based JBS has long denied any company involvement in deforestation of the Amazon for cattle ranching, despite accusations to the contrary. According to this week’s Bureau report:

“JBS, like other major beef producers, says that it has a 'zero tolerance' approach to illegal deforestation and has introduced sophisticated monitoring systems for its direct suppliers. At every turn, the company has insisted that it is impossible to monitor its indirect suppliers because there are no publicly available records of livestock moving between farms at different stages of the rearing process.”

That’s hogwash, according to Delara Burkhardt, a German MEP, who told the Bureau:

“Big companies—like JBS—with their big leverage on upstream suppliers could fix this, if they wanted to, or if they were required to do so by domestic or importing countries’ laws.”

Either JBS doesn't want to fix the problem. Or lawmakers don't want to force the company to fix the problem. Or both.

UK Parliament member Angus MacNeil told the Bureau:

“All over Europe there is a cattle tracing system so that people know where calves are born and they can be traced through their lives. In Brazil this is a huge loophole. It is even a more serious issue than welfare and standards, as it is deforestation of the Amazon, the lungs of the earth are at stake.”

How does JBS exploit that loophole? The Bureau found evidence that JBS may have facilitated “cattle laundering,” a process by which livestock (referred to as “skinny cows”) from ‘“dirty” farms linked to deforestation can end up being moved and mixed in with cattle from “clean” farms.

According to the Bureau’s report:

“The Bureau has found evidence of JBS repeatedly promoting use of its own trucks for transporting cattle between indirect suppliers and direct suppliers. JBS executives promote the routes as 'three-legged journeys': picking up 'skinny' cattle at one farm, exchanging them for fattened cows at a second, and ending the journey at an abattoir."

Among the JBS customers linked to JBS’s deforestation practices are: Walmart, Costco, Sysco, Restaurant Brands International (owner of Burger King, Popeye’s and Tim Horton’s) and Yum! (owner of KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and others).

JBS Is everywhere . . . except here

JBS’s role in burning up the Amazon relates largely to the company’s beef production. 

But JBS doesn’t just sell beef. It’s also the world’s largest producer of chicken and lamb, and the third-largest producer of pork. 

The company’s chicken is sold at retail under the Pilgrim’s (formerly Pilgrim's Pride) brand name at retail chains like Publix, Walmart, Costco, Kroger and Sam’s Club. JBS also supplies chicken to KFC, Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A and Burger King.

As already noted, the JBS name doesn’t appear on any of its beef, poultry, lamb or pork. But the company’s meat production practices speak to every one of the 13 reasons we cite for boycotting Big Meat. 

For instance, according to an April 2020 Animal Welfare Institute report, JBS operates seven of the 10 worst large livestock slaughter plants in the country. The report said that In total, these seven JBS-owned plants had 132 incidents, including 18 violations classified as “egregious.” The violations included multiple incidents of failing to stun animals before shackling and hanging them to be dismembered, likely causing the animals excruciating pain.

As for human health, many JBS brands are produced with antibiotics, and the company has had to recall beef products for everything from salmonella outbreaks, to plastic contamination, to just this week, failing to follow inspection protocols.

How do consumers steer clear of JBS products, when the company’s name is nowhere to be found? But the products are everywhere?

Here are a few tips:

• Think small. Buy from a trusted organic regenerative farmer or rancher, either one you know personally, or one that sells online. (Here’s a directory to help you find them).

• Don't eat at fast-food chains. Period. Almost all of them source from JBS or one of the other Big Meat companies.

• Ask before you order. If you dine out at other restaurants, ask your server where the burgers and steaks on their menu come from. If they can’t tell you, order something else.

• Align your meat purchasing with your personal values. If you care about the environment, if you care about food chain workers, if animal welfare matters to you, don’t buy meat—any meat, including poultry, pork and lamb—from anywhere other than a farmer or rancher whose practices protect the things you care about.

It will take major policy reforms to achieve a total transformation of our highly centralized, large-scale industrial meat production to an environmentally, socially and economically just organic regenerative system that 

That’s why we support a Green New Deal, and why we’re asking consumers to sign our petition demanding a total ban on new factory farms.

But policy reform has to go hand-in-hand with consumer demand. And consumers must demand better.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). To keep up with OCA news and alerts, sign up for our newsletter.