Monday, December 23, 2013

Samurai Food Movie

If you like traditional Japanese food, you will love this film. How did the current amazing food culture here evolve? Well, we'll never know exactly, but Japan created a food culture that recently got UNESCO status. I agree with that, but I would also like to know more about what people ate back in the old days. Much of it came from the Buddhist temples, but here we have a fresh take on what made it all available to a lot of people.

Bushi no Kondate (Recipes of the Samurai) was released here on December 14, 2013 and I love all of it. The Japanese website has all kinds of bells and whistles, do explore bushikon.

The film illustrates dishes for all sorts of occasions—tai no karamushi (steamed sea bream stuffed with a mixture of okara bean-curd lees, pine nuts, ginkgo nuts, lotus root and others) for a wedding banquet; jibuni, which is a local stew containing duck meat or chicken, vegetables and sudare-fu (a type of wheat gluten) with soy sauce, sugar and other seasonings; and a massive banquet comprising numerous dishes on many trays, all cooked and served under strict protocol. In the film, the feast is held to celebrate the assumption of a new domain leader.

Yomiuri: Woman behind Japan’s savory past: Ueto stars in washoku film on heels of UNESCO listing

It confirms the story my food book in 2009, that this is a country with novel food culture roots, that needs to be protected and developed. Recognizing food as part of culture makes farming and all other aspects of food production a holy grail. Farming means caring about local biological diversity. You can't just take that a away from people. But, today, you also need to get back to the roots. Satoyama initiatives and teikei farming links to consumers (CSA) and organic farms and farmers markets are all a wonderful part of that.

Back to the film. Knifes are a big part of how chefs got this amazing cousine to evolve, thus the link to the samurai. But I also like how this film has a focus on the women who cooked, including Haru (Aya Ueto).

It also make me think, how to make people happy. Food is a big part of that. Feed your vassals right... Women like Haru in the Edo era must have had a lot of joy that history have not given them credit for.

Note that there was next to no meat in the Edo era. The amount of tasty seasonal vegetables and all kinds of grains meant that people enjoyed a healthy diet. Fermentation and other ways to preserve food were crucial. Sake and other drinks/foods developed using the koji strain of bacteria/Japan's national culture. Using that, we got miso and so much flavour that we still enjoy.

If you like sake, this is a film to watch!

Rice and other grains kept people more or less happy, unless there were troubles such as failed harvests. In such times, how did people here get by? Lots of fruit and nuts too, including chestnuts, that are common here in Saitama. Each region of Japan has some local food. No meat? A very Buddhist way of living. We need to come to terms with that as we deal with Japan's current challenges. Shinto did not condone meat eating, either. What happened since the military rise from the 19th century is another story.

Rice was also a rare treat for ordinary people... 

Do enjoy this film, based in rural Ishikawa prefecture. People in cities like Tokyo, bite the dust. You don't know a thing about culture ;)

Friday, December 20, 2013

In Praise Of Tofu - And Other Plant-Based Foods (Especially All The Green & Purple Ones)

Great video by Dr. Neal Barnard about brain health, and how research supports eating a plant-based diet will help you avoid Alzheimer or dementia or forgetting your name at old age.

No kidding, the research is solid, showing that saturated fats and meat will in fact help build up bad stuff in your brain, adding to the metals you are exposed to and other stuff. You are at a higher risk.

Don't take my word for it, just watch the video.

One hour of very enlightening data and some laughs, Dr. Neal Barnard is that kind of guy. Come on, you have the time, or make the time. Your very own brain deserves it. They didn't teach you this at school, so it is up to you.

And why are old people in Okinawa so... old?

That is not going to continue to be the pattern if younger generations now change to eat spam (Spam?) and other dietary practices introduced after 1945.

Try Okinawan sweet potatoes as your basic food, instead of wheat or rice...

The Okinawan sweet potato is not related to the potato but is actually in the morning glory family. Native to the Americas, it was brought to Japan sometime between 1492 and 1605. The hardy plant grew well in Japan and quickly became popular in a variety of Japanese dishes. When it eventually made its way to the Hawaiian Islands, brought by the Polynesians, the crop flourished in the rich volcanic soil.
Sweet potatoes of all varieties are high in vitamin A, vitamin C and manganese. They are also a good source of copper, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium and iron. Sweet potatoes are known to improve blood sugar regulation and some studies have discovered significant antibacterial and antifungal properties. The primary nutritional benefit, and the one for which Okinawan sweet potatoes are especially prized, is their high antioxidant levels.
The antioxidant known as anthocyanin is the pigment which is responsible for the brilliant purple color of the flesh. It is the same pigment that gives blueberries, red grapes and red cabbage their color. Blueberries are well known for their high antioxidant levels, however, the Okinawan sweet potato actually has 150 percent more antioxidants than blueberries. Antioxidants help to guard against cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Read more: Down To

But that is not how things work on the ground, here in Okinawa.

Thus the Okinawans, who have basically gone for the standard American diet (SAD), - people in Okinawa are now more obese than anyone else in Japan.

The Asahi: The Okinawa Shock: As life expectancy falls, world watches with bated breath

What impact will these kinds of dramatic dietary changes have on body shape and life expectancy? This question has drawn the eyes of the medical world to Okinawa.
Hideaki Tanaka, a doctor who treats lifestyle-related diseases in Tomigusuku city, was interviewed on the topic by a French TV channel last autumn. "We want to tell people about the crisis in Okinawa," crews from France said to him. He has also been interviewed by the U.S.'s CNN channel and South Korea's KBS. As Tanaka sees it, Okinawa, with its drastic dietary changes, is attracting attention as a "testing ground" for the world.
"The Okinawan crisis is a sign of things to come for the rest of the planet. Perhaps people are coming here to try to find solutions to the problem," he suggests.
In a Japanese public health and nutrition survey into obesity levels, released for the first time this year, Okinawa topped the national rankings, with 45.2 percent of all adult males aged 20 to 69 classed as obese with a BMI of 25 or over.
According to a study by Hidemi Todoriki, an associate professor at the University of the Ryukyus Graduate School, the fat content of the Okinawan diet has risen sharply over the years, up from 10 percent in the 1960s to more than 25 percent in the 1970s. It now stands at the 30 percent mark, up there with Western diets. At the same time, consumption of konbu seaweed, a traditional ingredient in Okinawan cooking, has fallen to less than a third of what it was 30 years ago.
The BMI of a 40-year-old Okinawan male was below the national average in 1949, soon after the war. However, with social factors also taking their toll, things had changed by the time the territory was returned to Japan. By 1982, the BMI of this demographic had risen to around 25, higher than the national average of 22.8.
The change of diet has also put to the test Okinawa's longstanding claim to be "the long-life prefecture." After ranking fourth in 1995, the average life expectancy of Okinawan males plunged to 26th in the national chart in just five short years, prompting talk of a "26 shock" within the prefecture. Nothing much has changed since, with the most-recent survey in 2005 placing Okinawa 25th in the national rankings.
The situation has also deteriorated when it comes to lifestyle-related diseases, with younger people aged 65 and under accounting for more than 20 percent of all deaths in the prefecture, the highest level in Japan. To explain this phenomenon, some have pointed to the lack of exercise in this car-driven society, while others have touched on economic problems, such as the reluctance to spend money to meet ballooning medical costs.
At the same time, though, people are starting to reappraise the food eaten by ordinary people during the era of long life expectancy. For example, the prefecture is examining the idea of bolstering school meals with Okinawan vegetables, which can help ameliorate high blood pressure and reduce body weight.

And yes, Dr. Neal Barnard likes that you eat tofu, but do make that organic if you are in the US, as most of the rest is genetically modified. Here in Japan we have more choice as farmers here do not grow GMOs and there are so many green vegetables to choose from, seasonally.

I'd add miso to that list of health foods, soy based and do add some veggies to make it a proper dish. Miso soup is not just "soup" but a wonderful way to enjoy a complete vegan/vegetarian meal. As we consider a future with a lower carbon footprint, I can think of no other way to get there but the vegan/vegetarian diet, more or less. More, preferably. And, I think that means more of the Japanese way of eating, traditionally.

Of course, if you prefer McDonald's you are supporting a money-loosing concern (where is the market economy and its invisible hand when you need it?) closing hundreds outlets in Japan as consumers are not that interested anymore.

2010: McDonald's to Close Hundreds of Outlets in Japan

2012: McDonald’s to Close 110 Branches in Japan As Profits Fall

2013: McDonald's Japan shuts 74 outlets while cutting net forecast

(Bloomberg) — McDonald’s Corp.’s Japan business plans to close 74 outlets in the country as the fast-food operator cut its full-year profit forecast by more than half in its second-largest market.
Net income will probably be 5 billion yen ($48 million) in the year ending December, 57 percent lower than its previous forecast, McDonald’s Holdings Co. Japan Ltd. said in a statement to Tokyo’s stock exchange yesterday.

Good, I'd say, considering the health impact this kind of diet will have in Japan, and I agree with Dr. Neal Barnard that this is a battle much like the anti-tobacco fights some 20 years ago. We have to get people off junk food, or all kinds of health problems will just continue to go off the charts.

Also in that video, advice on avoiding too much iron or copper or aluminum too. Reduce. Not good for your brain. Eat your greens, think about what a plant-based diet really means. Eat more veggies, more fruit, eat no meat or try to reduce. Avoid processed foods with all kinds of additives and - ok, enough It's not that hard. Go for the greens. As for tofu, I think that has got to be the best culinary answer to all our prayers.

Hat tip to Pandabonium.

The case for a vegan world

And yes, you can make vegan pizza, do check out Herwin's new book!

It is a modest 61 page book with  pizza recipes and general guidelines how to make a tasty vegan pizza. Making a tasty vegan pizza is basically different from making a regular non veg pizza.
This book is from 4 years experience baking vegan pizzas in a vegan restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand. It is a fundraiser cooking book ; with the sales of this recipe book i aim to get enough funds to start a new vegan cafe in Thailand.
This first edition is in PDF, EPUB, and Kindle. If i get enough positive responses i will make an extended second edition in full color paperback.

Support the book and a new vegan cafe and buy the pizza book !
The ebook costs 6.99 us$, please paypal to and i will send to you in a few days.

Read more about the book and see some pages on

Thanks !


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Rural Vs. Urban - So How Is Our Human Brain Supposed To Deal With The Constant Onslaught...

Preferring the rural to the urban? Happen to be more happy in the countryside? Farm rather than firm?

Could that be "hard-wired" into your brain? Interesting piece of work by psychologists, who decided to take a look at how we are all trying to cope with our environment. While I have issues with the language, the study is interesting. I don't feel "hard-wired" but I do prefer trees to concrete.

Thanks (as always) to Tom for finding.

If you live in a mansion (apartment) in a high rise building in a city like Tokyo, Seoul or Beijing, you are obviously not in touch with what your brain is prepared to deal with. Make that London or New York, or wherever. Or Rio. Or Kiev. Or Stockholm. No wonder so much of the news is just about issues that do not really matter. People living in superlarge cities will find it more and more difficult to secure food, energy, news, "feeling at peace" than before.

Rural vs. urban may become the most serious battle, once WTO and TPP agreements kick in and we are left to deal with the details. I see a lot of people from urban area coming to my forest to run or walk, but are they prepared spiritually to go beyond the "ganbaru" and such mindset?

Why are there still golf courses here for the super-rich? I understand they are probably the top-of-the-top-Japanese who cannot enjoy nature in any other way. A few hours of golf in stead of promoting biological diversity, helping Ramsar sites, working to make Satoyama initiatives a real thing, while we all try to stop global warming. Playing golf rather than doing your duty to make sure that Japan gloriously works to do your thing, with pride?

I wish I had more examples.

The Independent: Human brain hard-wired for rural tranquility

Humans may be hard-wired to feel at peace in the countryside and confused in cities – even if they were born and raised in an urban area. 

According to preliminary results of a study by scientists at Exeter University, an area of the brain associated with being in a calm, meditative state lit up when people were shown pictures of rural settings. But images of urban environments resulted in a significant delay in reaction, before a part of the brain involved in processing visual complexity swung into action as the viewer tried to work out what they were seeing.
The study, which used an MRI scanner to monitor brain activity, adds to a growing body of evidence that natural environments are good for humans, affecting mental and physical health and even levels of aggression.
Dr Ian Frampton, an Exeter University psychologist, stressed the researchers still had more work to do, but said they may have hit upon something significant.
“When looking at urban environments the brain is doing a lot of processing because it doesn’t know what this environment is,” he said. “The brain doesn’t have an immediate natural response to it, so it has to get busy. Part of the brain that deals with visual complexity lights up: ‘What is this that I’m looking at?’ Even if you have lived in a city all your life, it seems your brain doesn’t quite know what to do with this information and has to do visual processing,” he said.
Rural images produced a “much quieter” response in a “completely different part of the brain”, he added. “There’s much less activity. It seems to be in the limbic system, a much older, evolutionarily, part of the brain that we share with monkeys and primates.”

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Support Consumers Union of Japan (CUJ)

Get the latest Japanese newsletter from Consumers Union of Japan, in Japanese. CUJ was founded back in 1969 and has been an independent voice for a long time.

Do check out the CUJ history, in English. I remember how proud we were when we got the NPO legislation status. Our main focus has been on the UN Convention of Biological Diversity, and the WTO, and the TPP. We also care about food labels and other cases of consumer fraud.

Consumers Union of Japan (CUJ) is a politically and financially independent non-governmental organization (NGO). CUJ is funded by membership fees, sales of its publications and donations. CUJ was founded in April 1969 as Japan's first nationwide grassroots consumer organization. It was officially certified as a non-profit organization on May 1, 2006 by the new Japanese NPO legislation.

NPO, NGO... these are the ways the government tries to keep people at bay. But Consumers Union of Japan and its many campaigns have managed to stay independent over 40 years.  People will try to organize but it is not that easy. CUJ has the record to show that it can be done. Noone can argue against consumers getting together and making their case against big business and government, and often there is revolving door issues in the ministries that are supposed to regulate in people's favour. Revolving door? In Japan it is known as amakudari.

Do support CUJ, a force for good in Japan, since 1969. Do help CUJ deal with the many issues that you read about. CUJ is working on them. CUJ needs all the support and attention it can get. Check out our English website and blog about it, tell your friends, do a like on Facebook or Twitter, help CUJ get the message across. Can you imagine the hardships back in 1969 when CUJ was founded?

CUJ's current campaign deals with trade and biodiversity, as well as other issues like food safety, vaccines, medical claims, and of course Fukushima. In 2013 CUJ also participated in the protests against the new secrecy act. Next year we plan to participate in the UN Convention of Biological Diversity meeting in South Korea. Will you help CUJ?

Become a Member and Support CUJ (in Japanese) here: Kaiin ni naru

Get the newsletter and booklets (J)

Check out the CUJ schedule for events (J)

But remember, we keep track of a lot of issues in English as well, with your help.



Consumers Union of Japan and other groups that we work with, including the No! GMO Campaign, have a focus on the global negotiations to protect biological diversity. Our 2010 campaign network, Japan Citizens’ Network for Planet Diversity, is now called the Japan Citizens’ Network for Sustainable Food and Agriculture (in Japanese). The Convention of Biological Diversity has implications for both wild nature and agriculture, and affects consumers in a number of ways.
We are particularly concerned with the wild-growing genetically modified canola plants that we have found at many locations around Japan on numerous occasions. The first investigations by concerned citizens started in 2004. The spilling occurs mainly near harbours and by roads leading from the harbours to food oil companies. Japan’s importing companies and food oil companies that make canola oil, as well as the transport companies involved, are all directly responsible for the contamination of native canola (including rape seed, natane). Read more about the October, 2010 Report about GM Canola Contamination in Japan. We introduced this report at a side-event at the CBD conference in Nagoya on October 12, 2010.
We have also protested against genetically modified papaya. In particular, illegal GM papaya trees were found growing in Okinawa. We highlighted the need for better legislation at the 2012 CBD conference in Hyderabad, India.
Activists around Japan are holding a number of events and conferences about biodiversity, as well as local study group meetings and demonstrations. We are very concerned about how genetically modified organisms can be a threat to biodiversity. CUJ has participated in the GMO-Free Zone conferences in Europe since 2008. For more details see the Planet Diversity website (in English). In November 2013 we participated in the Third World Network biosafety expert conference in Quezon City, the Philippines to discuss GM issues especially relevant for Asian countries.
The issue is getting serious, and we call for an end to imports of genetically modified canola. Crops that can contaminate local plants should not be imported. Meanwhile, we need strict rules for liability and redress to deal with contamination issues that arise from trade with the genetically modified crops. Rules are needed and they should be legally binding with effective compliance at the local and national level.
Detailed Analysis Of The Nagoya Results
Photos from the Planet Diversity events in Nagoya!
On Sunday October 10, 2010, a number of organizations held an out-door pre-event from 10:00-16:00 at the Sakae Mochi no Ki Hiroba in Nagoya. The Planet Diversity Parade from 15:00-16:30 on that day was a huge success with over 1,000 participants!

Getting Ready For Nagoya
Since 2004, groups of volunteers have participated in activities to investigate wild-growing GM canola near roads and harbours in many locations around Japan. Of course there are many other examples of how genetic engineering and monoculture farming of GM crops will contaminate conventional and organic food production.

Japan Resources Special Biodiversity Issue
Biological Diversity & Organic Farming: 2010 was the Year of Biological Diversity and here in Japan, we prepared for the United Nations conference in Nagoya in October, 2010. In this special issue of our English newsletter you will find articles about experts and activists in Japan and from abroad with much to teach us about biodiversity and sustainable farming methods.

GM Rice And Contamination Cases Worry Consumers In Japan
Japanese consumers are strongly opposed to genetically modified foods, according to several large opinion polls.

Biodiversity In Focus: Genetic Modification Of Living Organisms Is A Threat
Christine von Weizsäcker visits Japan: Genetic modification of living organisms is a threat to biodiversity. In October 2010, an important international conference was held in Nagoya, Japan, to discuss the integrity of biodiversity, as genetic engineering threatens to influence and disturb the ecosystems around the world.

Protect Biodiversity In Nagoya
Protect biodiversity from living modified organisms at MOP5 in Nagoya!
Japan Citizens’ Network for Planet Diversity (JCNPD) is a nationwide network for citizens who are working on protecting our food crop diversity from living modified organisms.

Report From The Planet Diversity Conference In Bonn, Germany 2008
Consumers Union of Japan participated together with other Japanese NGOs at the large Planet Diversity conference in Bonn, Germany on May 12-16, 2008. It was a global congress on the future of food and agriculture, with a demonstration to celebrate biodiversity.

Other biodiversity-related links from Japan:
In Defence of Biodiversity (in English by the editors of Kyoto Journal)
Japan Forum for Biodiversity (“CBD Shimin Net” in Japanese)
Bio Journal (Citizens’ Biotechnology Information Center)
WWF Japan Wildlife Campaign
2010 International Year of Dugong (Saving the Dugong in Okinawa)
A Seed Japan (Several projects, including Access and Benefit Sharing)
FoE Satoyama Project (Focus on Japan’s agricultural homelands)

Monday, December 09, 2013

Thanks From The Philippines...

... but a month later, NHK World reports that almost 4 million people are still displaced by the November 8 typhoon.

Almost 4 million people are still living in shelters in the Philippines one month after the year's most powerful typhoon hit the country.
Typhoon Haiyan swept through the country's central region on November 8th, bringing torrential rain and storm surges.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council says 5,796 people are confirmed dead and 1,779 others remain missing.

On Sunday, people in the affected areas attended Masses. In Tacloban, the main city of hard-hit Leyte Island, hundreds of people gathered at a local church from early in the morning and prayed for the victims.

The island's coastal regions still lack electricity and running water.

The Philippine government and international organizations are continuing relief activities, distributing supplies and providing medical services.

They are also trying to speed up reconstruction efforts, including building infrastructure and temporary housing. (Dec. 8, 2013)

And here is a good interview in The Mainichi with a Japanese paramedic who spent the past month helping survivors in Tacloban on the island of Leyte.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

GMO Corn Rejected By China, This Could Be Huge

Illegal genetically modified organisms are a problem that raise regulatory concern. I wonder if Japan has tested for the GMO corn that China recently rejected. The biotech corporations that promote their GMO seeds appear to not have the situation under control, which is of course worrying. We all hope we can avoid the kind of food safety scandals that emerged when GMO potatoes and other illegal GMOs were found in the market.

Consumers want better labels to be able to avoid this all together, but we learn that TPP and other trade agreements may be used to block such information. Who benefits? China May Halt Corn Imports From U.S. on GMO Cargoes, Yigu Says

Buyers in China, the second-biggest corn consumer, may halt purchases from the U.S. as quarantine officials reject more shipments with a non-approved genetically modified variety,said Yigu Information Consulting Ltd. China rejects 60,000 tons of genetically modified U.S. corn

BEIJING, Nov. 29 (UPI) -- China rejected 60,000 tons of U.S. corn because the crops had been genetically modified in violation of regulations, Beijing's quality watchdog said Friday.
Authorities in the southern port city of Shenzhen, just north of Hong Kong, found a variety of insect-resistant transgenic corn within more than 60,000 metric tons of maize imported from the United States, a spokesman for China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said.
The agency is in charge of entry-exit commodity inspection and import-export food safety certification and accreditation.
The insect-resistant MIR 162 transgenic corn was developed by Syngenta AG to provide growers with maize hybrids that are resistant to feeding damage caused by moths, butterflies and other lepidopteran insects.

Seems Syngenta (a Swiss corporation) has worked closely with Sanbei, since 2007.

Foodnavigator.com has more but the story is copyright protected, like a lot of important news about this kind of issue. Do search for the 2007 deal between Syngenta and Sanbei... if the link does not work. Much details about these topics cannot be easily found; corporations keep their data closed to the general public.

China rejecting US and EU foods from patented and potentially illegal genetically modified sources... Japan and South Korea also have strict rules... This could be huge news.

And in 2014, South Korea is host to the UN Convention of Biological Diversity, CBD COP 12 MOP 7, a forum for issues that also will deal with GMOs and their potential harm...

BT corn is a controversial issue in the Philippines, where farmers have experienced financial hardships, according to Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 25th, 2013

GM corn farmers lose lands, increase debts says new research
1.GMO Corn Farmers in Debt
2.GM Corn Farmers Lose Lands, Increase Debts Says New Research
1.GMO Corn Farmers in Debt
Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 25th, 2013

From the start, there had always been concern about the havoc GMO-agricultural crops might create in the environment and the adverse health effects they might have on end-consumers. (GMO means genetically modified organisms.) The financial/material aspect — higher yields, more hungry people fed, etc. — seemed to be the redeeming factor.
There always had been protests against the “invasion” and production of Bt-corn and Bt-talong (eggplant). Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, the donor organism in the genetically modified plants. The protestors were sometimes labeled as “purists” who were getting in the way of the advancement of science.
Among the advocates of GMO-free agricultural products are Masipag (Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-Unlad ng Agrikultura) and Greenpeace. Masipag is a network of farmers’ groups, scientists and NGOs that aim to improve the farmers’ quality of life “through their control over genetic resources, agricultural technology and associated knowledge”. And there are the consumer groups that are now raising their voices to make sure the food on their table are GMO-free. I wrote about the consumers groups’ concerns some weeks ago.
Masipag has just come out with a book which explains the adverse effects of GMO-corn on farmers and shows “evidence of failure” of what was supposed to have given farmers increased yields and better income. The book, “Socio-economic Impact of Genetically Modified Corn in the Philippines”, is an eye-opener for those who seem enamored with so-called high-yielding varieties that promise to feed the hungry of this world.
Dr. Chito Medina, Masipag national coordinator, says in the book’s foreword: “Promoters of GM crops always recite a litany of benefits including better yield, use of less pesticides, (being) less labor-intensive and improved income of farmers despite lack of sufficient evidence.” These supposed benefits are promoted without consideration for other socio-economic factors, he added. And while evidence of the adverse effects of GMOs on health and the environment are accumulating, data on the socio-economic impact of GMOs are rarely and dramatically laid bare, he stressed.
The book exposes the exploitation of poor farmers by local corn traders who, Masipag claims, “play a role in the proliferation of GMOs and changes in the structures of ownership and control over land, natural and genetic resources as a result of GM corn production.” The book also exposes how agrochemical transnational corporations are raking in huge profits from GM seeds and chemical inputs.
The Philippine government approved the commercial propagation of Bt corn some 10 years ago, Masipag says, and “since then eight GMO corn varieties had been approved for commercial propagation in the form of Bt corn, RR corn and a combination of pyramided and stacked traits of the same GM transformation events. Over the same period, 59 GMO crops/ events were also approved for importation for direct use as food, feed and for processing.”
Masipag adds and warns that GM foods such as the Bt eggplant and Golden Rice have also been “field-tested” and are said to be up for commercialization.
In 2000, the book says, farmers were enticed by the introductory price of GM corn which was almost the same as the regular hybrid corn. It cites the case of Cuartero, Capiz, where the Roundup Ready GM corn (RR corn) used to cost only P2,800 per 18-kilo bag which is good for a hectare. In 2008, the cost ballooned to P4,600 for a 9-kilo bag and P9,200 for two bags of RR corn seeds. Prices of fertilizers and pesticides also increased.
Farmers turned to traders and money-lenders for loans with interest ranging from 20 to 40 percent during the four months of the cropping season. They were also bound to sell to the traders at prices lower than the market price.
In the end, inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides) would eat up about 40 to 48 percent of the farmers’ total expenses per season. And all these go to the corn traders/financiers and agrochemical companies. Farmers who cannot pay end up losing control over their lands, or lose them entirely to evade legal actions.
As a farmer from Pangasinan said, “Nakain mo na, di mo pa naani.” (You’ve already consumed what you have yet to harvest.) They end up holding empty bags. To again quote a farmer who made an audience explode into laughter and rage: “Kaming magsasaka, naging magsasako.”
The Masipag research was conducted from February to March 2012. Masipag conducted focused group discussions (FGDs) with corn farmers and interviews with key informants (community leaders, local and national government officials, municipal agriculturists and Department of Agriculture regional officials). A total of 166 farmers participated in FGDs in case areas composed of 12 barangays and seven GM corn-producing provinces in Luzon (4), Visayas (4) and Mindanao (4). The provinces of Isabela, Pangasinan, Bukidnon, Sultan Kudarat, and South Cotabato belong to the top 10 corn-producing provinces, with Isabela having 34 percent of the total hectarage of GM corn areas in the Philippines.
For more on Masipag’s disturbing research findings, go to their website.
Greepeace is waging its own battle against Bt talong (eggplant), Golden Rice and other “GMO invasions” in, of all places, the courts (Greenpeace, Masipag et al. versus UPLBFI, UPLB-IPB, DENR-EMB. DA-BPI and PFA).
I am slowly learning the legal procedures for environmental cases adopted by the Supreme Court in 2012. “First in the world,” I am told, the writ of kalikasan was inspired by the more popular writ of amparo, writ of habeas data and writ of habeas corpus.
More on this another time.
2.GM Corn Farmers Lose Lands, Increase Debts Says New Research
Masipag, 20 September 2013

“A vicious cycle of poverty” may sound clichéd, but in the case of Filipino farmers planting genetically modified corn, no statement is more apt and true. Small-holder farmers who were lured by promises of good yields and sure markets pay as much as 20-40% interest per cropping season to financers and traders who also buy the produce at a much cheaper price. But as the promised resistance to pests and tolerance to herbicides have decreased over time — as well as natural disasters and calamities – farmers found themselves with poor harvest and incomes. Thinking that they could probably recover by the next cropping season, they borrow loans once again, incurring compounded interests to their unpaid debts.
These are uncovered by a new research “Socio-economic Impacts of Genetically Modified Corn in the Philippines” by MASIPAG which was formally launched on Monday, September 16. MASIPAG is a nework of farmers’ groups, scientist and non‐government organizations in the Philippines seeking to improve the farmers’ quality of life through their control over genetic resources, agricultural technology and associated knowledge.
“Promoters of GM crops always recite a litany of benefits including better yield, use of less pesticides and less labor-intensive, and improved income of farmers despite lack of sufficient evidence. In other times, the benefits are drum-beaten in isolation with other important socio-economic factors,” Dr. Chito Medina, MASIPAG national coordinator writes in the book’s foreword. “While evidences on the health and environmental effects of GMS are accumulating, the data on socio-economic impacts of GMOs are very few.”
The book discusses the effects of GM Corn production on farmers’ incomes, health and environment. The research also sheds light on the exploitation of local corn traders among the poor farmers, as well their role in the proliferation of GMOs and changes in the structures of ownership and control over land, natural and genetic resources as a result of GM corn adoption. A section of the book also discusses how agrochemical transnational corporations are reaping huge profits off GM seeds and chemical inputs.
Evidence of Failure
In the early 2000s, farmers were attracted to the introductory price of GM corn which was almost the same as the conventional hybrid corn. In Cuartero, Capiz for example, the Roundup Ready GM corn (RR corn) used to cost only Php2,800.00 per 18‐kilo bag which is good for a hectare. In 2008, the cost increased to Php 4,600.00 for every 9‐kilo bag and hence corn farmers have to spend Php 9,200.00 for two bags of the RR Corn seeds alone. Prices of other production inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides have also gone up.
Because of the expensive inputs, farmers turn to traders or financiers to avail of loans. In the study, farmers would incur loan interest ranging from 20% to 40% during the four months of cropping season. They are also bound to sell their produce to the traders at a price usually lower than the prevailing market price.
In all, external inputs (seeds, fertilizers and pesticides) eat about 40‐48% of the total expenses that a farmer spend per season, and all of these goes to the corn traders/financiers and agrochemical companies. “They say that with GM corn such as the herbicide‐tolerant variety, farmers can cut cost from weeding. But on the contrary, farmers are now spending more in order to use the technology,” said Medina.
Self-financed small‐holder farmers earn from Php 1,225.00 to Php 19,160.00, but loses can amount to as much as Php 6,611.00. Though farmers may earn as much as Php19,160.00 per season, they said that in reality, nothing really comes back because almost all of their production needs are financed by the traders/financiers including their food, tuition and other expenses. According to one farmer in Bayambang, Pangasinan – “nakain mo na di mo pa naaani” (we’ve already consumed what we have yet to harvest). Far worse, the small‐holder farmers that borrowed from traders ended up with negative incomes.
For farmers who are not able to pay, they usually end up losing control over their lands – what crops to plant, decision making over which crop or variety to plant because traders would not lend to farmers unless they use GM corn. In some cases, farmers are forced to leave, lease or give up their land in order to evade legal actions such as arrests from not paying their debts.
The research, which was conducted from February to March 2012 was a combination of desk and field research. Focused group discussion (FGD) among GM corn farmers and key informant interview (KII) methods were utilized in the field research. Community leaders, local and national government officials including, municipal agriculturists, and Department of Agriculture (DA) regional officials were interviewed as key informants.
A total of 166 farmers participated in the FGDs in all case areas which are composed of 12 barangays in seven GM corn producing provinces in Luzon (4), Visayas (4) and Mindanao (4). Isabela, Pangasinan, Bukidnon, Sultan Kudarat, and South Cotabato belong to the top 10 corn producing provinces in the country with Isabela comprising 34% of the total hectarage of GM corn areas in the Philippines
Stop GM Commercialization
The Philippine government approved the commercial propagation of Bt corn about ten years ago. Since then, eight GMO corn varieties had been approved for commercial propagation in the form of Bt corn, RR corn and a combination of pyramided and stacked traits of the same GM transformation events. Over the same period, fifty nine GMO crops/events were also approved for importation for direct use as food, feed, and for processing.
GM foods such the Bt eggplant and Golden Rice have also been field tested and are said to be geared for commercialization.
“Globally, negative health and environmental impacts of GMOs have already been documented and reported,” said Dr. Medina. “With the evidence that GM corn have also failed to improve the socio-economic standing of poor farmers and in fact driven them further into poverty should be stronger reason to stop the commercialization of GMOs.”

Image from Advocates Against GMO in Davao

Dr. Chito Medina of farmers support network MASIPAG (left) and Atty. Lee Aurelo of Third World Network (center) call for local and national laws to stop genetic-modified crops in the country for its negative effects on health, income and organic crops. They were resource persons in a forum last Thursday at Lispher Inn with City Councilors to discuss the banning of GMOs.

Update: The GMO Seralini case is just another issue, as the so-called scientific community retracts a study by a team that shows severe adverse affects to rats exposed to GMOs. Why? Turns out the so-called scientific journal just had a new member joining its board. He came straight from the biotech industry, to deal with this issue. Many scientists now support Seralini. Part of the problem is that GMO crops are doused with Roundup, and the toxicity was always determined on GMO crops not exposed to herbicides. BT crops are another issue where GMO safety studies never looked carefully about the real effects in the field. Also, science-based trade issues in WTO and other fora will become increasingly caught up in these kinds of debates, with Monsanto and Syngenta and BASF trying to overrule common sense and any effort to protect biological diversity.

Update 2: ENSSER (European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility), 30 Nov 2013 Journal’s retraction of rat feeding paper is a travesty of science and looks like a bow to industry

Who did the reevaluation?
Even more worrying than the lack of good grounds for the retraction is the fact that the journal’s editor-in-chief has not revealed who the reviewers were who helped him to come to the conclusion that the paper should be retracted; nor has he revealed the criteria and methodology of their reevaluation, which overruled the earlier conclusion of the original peer-review which supported publication. In a case like this, where many of those who denounced the study have long-standing, well-documented links to the GM industry and, therefore, a clear interest in having the results of the study discredited, such lack of transparency about how this potential decision was reached is inexcusable, unscientific and unacceptable. It raises the suspicion that the retraction is a favour to the interested industry, notably Monsanto.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

This And That

I was interviewed today about food safety by ABC Radio and it should be broadcast in Australia on Wednesday. If Kurashi has any readers down under perhaps you will be able to catch it and tell me how I did. I like radio, and sometimes quote Ralph Nader from back when he was a consumer advocate who used to say that local radio is the most important channel to reach people. Might have been so before facebook and twitter and mixi and whatnot.

But I still do like radio.

Also, just back from The Philippines and a great meeting with Third World Network in Quezon City, near Manilla. Photo attached shows how seriously in 12 Asian countries we all take the issue of genetic engineering and the onslaught by American (Monsanto) and Swiss (Syngenta) and German (BASF, Bayer) corporations that aim to take over the world's food supply through patents and immoral practices. Be it rice or eggplant, they want to control it. And next is animal genetic resources, as ETC Group pointed out during the meeting.

Japanese farmers have completely rejected GMO crops which is great. Some imports still happen, especially for food oils and animal feed. The contamination from imported canola seeds are an example of how things can go wrong, as activists here keep finding wild-growing GMO canola near harbours and food oil factories in places like Nagoya and Ibaragi. This could potentially contaminate other foods from the same family like broccoli, cabbage and several other indigenous Japanese vegetables in the brassica family, as pointed out by No! GMO Campaign and Consumers Union of Japan, and many others.

Rice in particular needs to be kept safe from the onslaught by corporations that do not care about/are seriously ignoring/don't want you to know about biological diversity, and the importance to over a billion of people in Asia who eat rice everyday. Rice diversity is the key to this.

I don't have the link to this, but Reuters is seriously overstating its case and I wonder when they stopped taking science into account. Is it all fear-mongering these days, even at the major news agencies?

TOKYO/SINGAPORE, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Shoppers browsing in  supermarkets around the world would once have been reassured by  a 'Made in Japan' tag.
But a wave of problems such as a recent mislabelling  controversy and festering worries over nuclear contamination  have tainted the nation's reputation as a food safe-haven.
The growing list of food scandals could dent Prime Minister  Shinzo Abe's push to boost exports of high-end products such as  Kobe beef, organic sake and even gimmicky square watermelons.  That drive is part of efforts to double agricultural, marine and  forestry shipments by 2020 and shake the economy out of  stagnation.
"The government's focus is on promoting industry, improving  trade and helping the economy get better," said Yasuaki Yamaura,  an official at the Consumers Union of Japan. "Keeping food safe  and dealing with the needs of consumers comprises very little of  what they do."

While I agree that Japan may be putting the cart before the horse as it promotes exports without the necessary support for its Food Safety Agency and other inspection services, not just to stop dubious imports but also to avoid exports that may cause concern abroad, I think Reuters is part of the problem, not the solution. The cattle drug (by Merck, a US corporation) mentioned below, for example, is not approved for use in Japan, and I don't understand how the article makes the conjecture that Japan somehow is not aware of its problems. As for GMO wheat, that was a case of contamination at one farm in Oregon. Not such an easy mystery, as NPR put it. Why does media not do science when everyone else has to abide by it? But back to Reuters:

Domestic confidence in food safety has also been hit by  worries over how the world's No.3 importer of agricultural  products tests purchases it makes from the global markets it  relies on for staples such as corn and wheat.
Japan, along with other countries, in June banned imports of  the U.S. wheat it uses to make cookies and cakes after unapproved genetically modified grains were found growing in  Oregon. While South Korea quickly developed a test for GMO wheat, Japan lagged in coming up with a kit.
And in October, Seoul detected cattle feed additive zilpaterol - banned in many countries - in U.S. beef. Taiwan  made a similar finding while Tokyo officials said they were  still trying to develop tests for the drug.
An official at Japan's health ministry said it took a while  to eventually complete a test as it had to be developed from  scratch with a non-diluted sample of the drug not available in  Japan.

Also, do visit The Philippines, they have the best people and such a warm generous hospitality attitude. 97% of the country was not affected by the November typhoon, and they look forward to seeing you. Don't believe all you read/hear/see in main stream media. Oh, except for the occasional radio interview, that is.

Update: Here is the link to the article on ABC Radio: Japan food scandals, poor regulation hurting premium food export push

Good article relevant to this on The Guardian: Fukushima two years on: a dirty job with no end in sight