Facebook has become so deeply ingrained in people’s lives that it has now become the norm to give it access to personal data without much thought, as if this is but a small price to pay for Facebook’s “free” service. But nothing could be further from the truth.
These traceable and sellable data now give Facebook the power to manipulate what we do, how we feel, what we buy and what we believe. The consequences of giving Facebook this much power is only becoming apparent, with mounting lawsuits against their security breaches and lousy privacy settings.
Even CrossFit, the well-established branded fitness regimen, has decided to stop supporting Facebook and its associated services, putting all their activities on Facebook and Instagram to a halt starting May 22, 2019. This decision came in the wake of Facebook’s deletion of the Banting7DayMealPlan user group, which was done without warning or explanation. The group has more than 1.65 million members who post testimonials regarding the efficiency of a low-carb, high-fat diet.
Although the group was later reinstated, Facebook’s action still shows how it acts in the interest of the food and beverage industry. You see, big advertisers on Facebook, like Coca-Cola, don’t want you to have access to this information, and Facebook is more than happy to ban anyone challenging the industrial food system. By doing this, it potentially contributes to the global chronic disease crisis.
Would you continue trusting a company that thinks too little of violating your rights to privacy?
1Facebook’s Primary ‘Product’ Is You
If you think Facebook’s product is the very platform that users interact with, you’re wrong. You are actually Facebook’s primary product. The site makes money off you by meticulously tracking your hobbies, habits and preferences through your “likes,” posts, comments, private messages, friends list, login locations and more. It sells these data, along with your personal information, to whomever wants access to them, potentially facilitating everything from targeted advertising to targeted fraud — this is its entire profit model.
Did you know that it can even access your computer or smartphone’s microphone without your knowledge? So if you’re suddenly receiving ads for products or services that you just spoke out loud about, don’t be surprised — chances are one or more apps linked to your microphone have been eavesdropping on you. These privacy intrusions can continue even after you’ve closed your Facebook account.
Companies can also collect information about the websites you’re visiting or the keywords you’re searching for outside of Facebook’s platform without your permission, and then sell these data to Facebook so it knows which ads to show you. This makes Facebook the most infamous advertising tool ever created, and to increase revenue, it has to continue spying on you.
During Facebook’s early days, its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, assured in an interview that no user information would be sold or shared with anyone the user had not specifically given permission to. However, the site’s blatant disregard for its users’ privacy proves otherwise. In fact, Facebook has been repeatedly caught mishandling user data and lying about their data harvesting, resulting in multiple legal problems.
The origin of Facebook is also far from altruistic, even though it’s said to be created “to make the world more open and connected,” and “give people the power to build community.” A front-runner to Facebook was a site called FaceMash, which was created to rate photos of women — photos that were obtained and used without permission. Some of the women were even compared to farm animals! This speaks volumes about Zuckerberg’s disrespect for privacy. Facebook is basically founded on a misogynistic hate group and it should therefore ban itself.
2Facebook Faces Investigation for Its Lax Security and Privacy Practices
Facebook is currently facing a number of lawsuits regarding its controversial data-sharing practices and poor security measures. Back in 2010, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revealed that Facebook was sharing user data with third-party software developers without the users’ consent, expressing concerns about the potential misuse of personal information, as Facebook does not track how third parties utilized them.
While Facebook agreed by consent order to “identify risk to personal privacy” and eliminate those risks, they did not actually pay attention to their security lapse. Had they done so, they would’ve been able to prevent the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the main focus of FTC’s first criminal probe. This issue involves Facebook’s deal with a British political consulting firm, allowing it access to around 87 million user data, which was used to influence public opinion in the U.S. presidential election.
Another criminal investigation into Facebook’s data sharing practice is underway. This time, it revolves around Facebook’s partnerships with tech companies and device makers, allowing them to override the users’ privacy settings and giving them broad access to its users’ information.
Amid federal criminal investigations, Zuckerberg announced the company’s latest plan to encrypt messages, so only the sender and the receiver will supposedly be able to decipher what they say. This is ironic, considering it was recently discovered that Facebook stored millions of user passwords in readable plaintext format in its internal platform, potentially compromising the security of millions of its users.
Zuckerberg has repeatedly demonstrated a complete lack of integrity when it comes to fulfilling his promises of privacy. In fact, in a 2010 talk given at the Crunchie awards, he stated that “privacy is no longer a social norm,” implying that using social media automatically strips you of the right to privacy, and that is why they do not respect it.
3Facebook Is a Monopoly
Facebook’s plan to integrate Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp would turn it into a global super-monopoly. This merger has been criticized by tech experts, as it robs users of their ability to choose between messaging services, leaving them virtually no choice but to submit to Facebook’s invasive privacy settings. This also gives Facebook unprecedented data mining capabilities.
German antitrust regulator, Bundeskartellamt, is the first to prohibit Facebook’s unrestricted data mining, banning Facebook’s services in Germany if it integrates the three messaging platforms. If other countries follow suit, the merger would fall through, as it probably should.
One of the outspoken proponents of breaking up monopolies like Facebook, Google and Amazon is U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Her campaign to break up Facebook was censored by the site, taking down three of her ads with a message that said the ads went “against Facebook’s advertising policies.”
After Warren took to Twitter to comment how the censorship simply proves why her proposal was necessary, Facebook then reinstated her ads with the lame excuse that they were only removed because they included Facebook’s logo, which violates the site’s advertising policy.
I’ve Decided — I Am Leaving Facebook
At present, I have nearly 1.8 million Facebook followers, and I am grateful for the support. But a while back, I have expressed my concerns that perhaps I am doing more harm than good by being a part of Facebook, as I could be contributing to the invasive data mining, an idea that never sat well with me.
For those reasons, I decided that leaving the platform and going back to depending on email is the responsible way forward. If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter yet, I urge you, your family and your friends to sign up now. I polled my audience and they agreed with my decision to leave.
Every solar system model you’ve seen is wrong
So these filmmakers mapped out the true scale of the planets’ orbits in the sand.
What do you get when you combine science-inspired wonder and seven miles of desert? An incredible video.
Filmmakers Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh, along with a few helpful friends, set out to make a scale model of the solar system. To do that, they traveled 600 miles to Black Rock Desert (home of the Burning Man Festival) in Nevada. Using various technology, vehicles, a drone, math and perseverance, they created “To Scale: The Solar System,” a seven-minute video that shows the orbits of the eight planets in our solar system. (Sorry, Pluto!)
The video is educational, beautiful and awe-inspiring. It shows off our planet’s place in the solar system, and it offers perspective on just how small Earth is in the grand scheme of things. The entire film is captivating, but perhaps the most poignant moment is at sunrise, when the real sun matches the model’s sun, showing that the representation is accurate.
As the video points out, most depictions of the solar system are inaccurate because to create a true scale rendering, the planets would need to be “microscopic.” Overstreet and Gorosh came up with a solution: build a “simulated model” in the middle of a dry lakebed where there’s plenty of space to show off a model of, well, space.
So, why did these filmmakers decide to take on this complex endeavor? Gorosh, a director with high-end commercials and documentaries to his credit, explains the inspiration for the project in a behind the scenes video: “As for why we made the model? Because it’s never been done before, and we felt like it.” Overstreet, a filmmaker with interests in science and nature, also notes, “There is literally not an image that adequately shows you what it [the solar system] actually looks like from out there. The only way to see a scale model of the solar system is to build one.” So they did. They spent 36 hours in what appears to be a rather cold desert to build the model and to capture the footage required.
The technology needed for this undertaking from conception to final cut ranges from sophisticated cameras to analogue tech, like a good old-fashioned compass. They even created a DIY harrow, a piece of equipment typically used to to break up soil but is apparently also excellent for drawing the orbits of planets in desert sand!
According to Overstreet’s website, he’s working on another “To Scale” video about deep time. If the first “To Scale” video is any indication of what’s possible, we can’t wait.
Why paper books and the independent bookstore aren’t dead
Turns out all those dire predictions were wrong.
I love books, and to an irrational degree.
In books, I find psychological and emotional refuge, education and deep wisdom that I just don’t find elsewhere. My passion is connected to the words and the form they come in — printed pages bound together. So I’m not afraid to admit that when I read an article about how print book sales had risen (modestly) and e-book sales had declined (a bit) and that the number of independent bookstores had increased over the past year, I shed tears of joy.
It wasn’t that long ago that everyone was predicting the end of print and the demise of small bookstores. If people were reading, they were doing it digitally, and if they were buying paper books, they weren’t getting them from independent shops. The future looked grim for small stores.
But more and more, we keep hearing about the resurgence of the independent bookstore and how print is not dying after all. As The New York Times reported, “While analysts once predicted that e-books would overtake print by 2015, digital sales have instead slowed sharply.”
And one wonderful consequence of the changing market is that bookstores are slowly coming back.
“That’s right. The phoenix rises from the ashes. According to the American Booksellers Association, there are now 2,321 independent bookstores in the United States,” reported NPR’s Paddy Hirsch in March 2018. “And there are a couple of things that happened to prepare the grind for this recovery. First, when Amazon came along, the independents were decimated, sure. But the corporates — the big-box stores and the chains — they really got crushed. Borders, for instance, went out of business altogether. So that left a gap for the indies to fill.”
That’s hundreds of new, independent bookstores, which is just plain exciting. (I love to find local booksellers whenever I’m in a new city or town, and I know I’m not alone in that regard.)
The good news started to turn around a few years ago. Plus, sales at independent bookstores were up about 9 percent in 2018 from the year before, according to the American Booksellers Association. Bookstores in the U.K. also are experiencing increased revenue. Nielsen Bookscan statistics show year-on-year growth of 22 billion GBP with 2018 book sales reaching 1.59 billion GBP, reported The Guardian.
“I think the worst days of the independents are behind them,” Jim Milliot, coeditorial director for Publishers Weekly magazine, told the Christian Science Monitor in 2013. “The demise of traditional print books has been a bit overblown. Everybody is a little anxious, but they are starting to think they’ve figured it out for the time being.”
Why people want print
What media stories don’t delve into are the reasons behind the stagnation in e-books and slight-but-real increase in demand for printed books. I don’t think this is anything like the niche nostalgia that’s driving vinyl record sales, which is still a tiny part of the huge music industry. Print book sales are still 80 percent of the market, the dominant form.
Could it be that, unlike music, there’s a real decline in utility when you choose e-books over printed ones — and only a marginal gain in efficiency? Are printed books simply a superior format, as my friend David Lanphier Jr. commented on Facebook?
Yes, you can carry a number of books with you on an e-book reader, which is an undeniable bonus. But most of us are only reading a couple of books at a time, and it’s not that hard to choose one or two books to carry around. For those who need larger print, e-readers are a definite win. If you live far from your local library, e-books are also a great solution.
And some people like looking up words, which is convenient with an e-reader. But in the days of smartphones, it’s almost as easy to grab your phone to check, so I’d call that one a wash.
The physicality of paper books
But unlike music, printed books are far sturdier and more reliable than e-readers. Many of my books have been dropped into water, partially set on fire by candles or campfires, and I hardly own a book that hasn’t had soup, coffee, tea, or water splashed on it. Printed books suffer all these indignities and more: Dogs chewing on them, toddlers throwing them out the car window, or use as a seat for butt protection against damp grass. All of those books are still readable.
You can take a biography to the seaside or read in the swimming pool as I’m wont to do without concern. You can throw a mystery in your backpack and take it to the top of the mountain and not care if it starts raining or your water bottle spills on it. You can keep reading in an Oregon drizzle and then dry that poetry out next to the fire. You can place a novel over your face and nap in the sunshine, breathing printer’s ink and words. You can even use the pages of a memoir to mop up a bit of blood when you fall off your mountain bike and cut your knee. (What? You’ve never bloodied a book?)
You can’t toss a terrible e-book across the room in frustration (cough, Nicholas Sparks, cough), and of course e-book publishers have made sharing titles nigh-impossible.
Of course, if you don’t like clutter, e-books are great; but if you love books, lots of them stacked up is comforting. And the used book market is still a relatively strong one, so just sell them if you don’t want to keep them around. You can then buy more books, something you can’t do with electronic copies of books. I buy used books for $5-8 each, then sell roughly two-thirds of them back to the bookseller for $3-4 credit. So new used books only end up costing me a few bucks, or I can put my credit towards a new title, cutting the cost below that of an e-book copy. Unless you’re buying new books all the time, I’ve found digital copies to be a significantly more expensive way to go.
Reading text in a digital format isn’t always the best way to get all the information from a story. (Photo: smokingapples.com/Flickr)
Besides being fragile, e-readers make scanning back into a book’s content difficult, because your story memory is not tied to a physical object and “spot” within it. You have to remember a word or phrase from the section you want to find. When I’m writing an article with books as reference, I find e-readers impossible to use; same with looking up a favorite few lines for reference later in my journal. And it’s not just because I didn’t grow up a digital native; even those who have grown up with e-readers and tablets still prefer print, according to a survey by Canon that looked at Millennial habits around reading and even sending written notes.
And as Lanphier added to his Facebook comment about this topic, “…my 6 and 1/2 year old niece has an iPad, and she reads on it, but she will read a book too. And, will choose a book over the iPad reading… because a book has that experience. You don’t see moms and kids and dads and kids gathered around the iPad reading together. But, you see them doing that with books.”
Clearly, I’m thrilled books are here to stay. And it looks like the next generation will love their printed books just as I do.
Editors’s note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in September 2015.
Pharmaceuticals: A market for producing ‘lemons’ and serious harm, analysis finds
- August 17, 2010
- American Sociological Association
The pharmaceutical industry is a “market for lemons,” a market in which the seller knows much more than the buyer about the product and can profit from selling products less effective and less safe than consumers are led to believe, according to an analysis that will be presented at the 105th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.
“Sometimes drug companies hide or downplay information about serious side effects of new drugs and overstate the drugs’ benefits,” said Donald Light, the sociologist who authored the study and who is a professor of comparative health policy at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. “Then, they spend two to three times more on marketing than on research to persuade doctors to prescribe these new drugs. Doctors may get misleading information and then misinform patients about the risks of a new drug. It’s really a two-tier market for lemons.”
Three reasons why the pharmaceutical market produces “lemons” are: Having companies in charge of testing new drugs, providing firewalls of legal protection behind which information about harms or effectiveness can be hidden, and the relatively low bar set for drug efficacy in order for a new drug to be approved, Light said.
According to his study, independent reviewers found that about 85 percent of new drugs offer few if any new benefits. Yet, toxic side effects or misuse of prescription drugs now make prescription drugs a significant cause of death in the United States.
Light’s paper, “Pharmaceuticals: A Two-Tier Market for Producing ‘Lemons’ and Serious Harm,” is an institutional analysis of the pharmaceutical industry and how it works based on a range of independent sources and studies, including the Canadian Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, the Food and Drug Administration, and Prescrire International.
The foundation for the paper is the work Light did for a forthcoming book he edited, titled ‘The Risk of Prescription Drugs,” which is scheduled for publication this fall by Columbia University Press.
In both his paper and his book, Light describes the “Risk Proliferation Syndrome” that is maximizing the number of patients exposed to new drugs that have relatively low efficacy and effectiveness but have greater risk of adverse side effects. Building on clinical trials designed to minimize evidence of harm and published literature that emphasizes a drug’s advantages, companies launch massive campaigns to sell it, when a controlled, limited launch would allow evidence to be gathered about the drug’s effects. Companies recruit leading clinicians to try using the drug for conditions other than those for which it is approved and to promote such off-label or unapproved uses. Physicians inadvertently become “double agents” — promoters of the new drug, yet trusted stewards of patients’ well-being, said Light. When patients complain of adverse reactions, studies show their doctors are likely to discount or dismiss them, according to Light.
Despite the extensive requirements for testing the efficacy and safety of each new drug, companies “swamp the regulator” with large numbers of incomplete, partial, substandard clinical trials, Light said. For example, in one study of 111 final applications for approval, 42% lacked adequately randomized trials, 40% had flawed testing of dosages, 39% lacked evidence of clinical efficacy, and 49% raised concerns about serious adverse side effects, said Light.
“Just recently, major reports have come out about biased, poor trials for Avandia and Avastin,” Light said, who noted that orphan drugs are tested even less well.
“The result is that drugs get approved without anyone being able to know how effective they really are or how much serious harm they will cause,” Light said. The companies control the making of scientific knowledge and then control which findings will go to the FDA or be published.
“A few basic changes could improve the quality of trials and evidence about the real risks and benefits of new drugs,” Light said. “We could also increase the percentage of new drugs that are really better for patients.”
The paper, “Pharmaceuticals: A Two-Tier Market for Producing ‘Lemons’ and Serious Harm,” was presented on Aug. 17 in Atlanta at the American Sociological Association’s 105th Annual Meeting.
Materials provided by American Sociological Association. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Serious Risks And Few New Benefits From FDA-Approved Drugs
Over the past year, the U.S. Senate and The New York Times have been investigating the failure of the nation’s auto safety regulators to protect citizens from cars with occasionally dangerous faulty devices.
But neither august institution has paid attention to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) failure to protect the 170 million Americans who take prescription drugs from adverse reactions that are killing more than 2,400 people every week. Annually, prescription drugs cause over 81 million adverse reactions and result in 2.7 million hospitalizations.
This epidemic of harm from medications makes our prescription drugs the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Including hospitalizations and deaths from prescribing errors, overdosing, and self-medication, drugs move up to third place.
Below I describe the biases that appear throughout the drug development process, from initial research to FDA review and approval. I conclude with recommendations that would reduce drug development costs and ensure that drugs are only approved if they are safe and significantly more effective than already existing medications.
A Me-Too Business Model
Every drug has risks, so any drug considered for FDA approval should demonstrate clinical advantages that justify those risks. Yet public, independent advisory teams of physicians and pharmacists in several countries found over 90 percent of new drugs approved by the FDA and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) offer few or no advantages over existing drugs to offset their risks of serious harm.
Figure 1 shows the scorecard for 979 newly approved drugs over a 10-year span, based on detailed assessment of clinical benefits and risks by Prescrire, one of the world’s most distinguished, independent review bodies of physicians and pharmacists. (The exhibit focuses on France, a country whose consumer-oriented drug market features an array of products similar to the U.S.)
Figure 1. Few Clinical Advances in a Decade and Hundreds of Other Drugs Approved for Promotion
Only two were breakthrough advances and fewer than 10 percent offered substantial clinical advantages over existing drugs. Yet approved drugs have a 20 percent risk of producing enough harm for regulators to add a serious warning or have them withdrawn.
Flooding the market with hundreds of minor variations on existing drugs and technically innovative but clinically inconsequential new drugs, appears to be the de facto hidden business model of drug companies. In spite of its primary charge to protect the public, the FDA criteria for approval encourage that business model. The main products of pharmaceutical research are scores of clinically minor drugs that win patent protection for high prices, with only a few clinically important advances like Sovaldi or Gleevec.
This business model works. Despite producing drugs with few clinical advantages and significant health risks, industry sales and profits have grown substantially, at public expense. Companies spend 2-3 times less on research than on marketing to convince physicians to prescribe these minor variations.
Industry figures show the public pays companies about six times R&D costs through high prices on drugs. According to a study by Consumer Reports, high costs to patients lead them to postpone visits to physicians, avoid medical tests, and be able unable to afford other, effective drugs. For society as a whole, a leading health economist found that 80 percent of all new expenditures for drugs was spent on the minor variations, not the major advances.
These startling results reflect studies from the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, where research fellows have investigated “institutional corruption” in the pharmaceutical industry. “Institutional corruption” refers to systemic, legal ways that social institutions such as medical science, the medical profession, and the FDA become compromised by corporate and special-interest funding and influence.
Peer-reviewed studies already demonstrate how pharmaceutical companies manipulate FDA rules to generate evidence that their new drugs are more effective and less harmful than unbiased studies would show. The industry then recruits teams of medical writers, editors, and statisticians to select and repackage trial results into peer-reviewed articles that become accepted as reliable medical knowledge.
Based on his investigations, Marc Rodwin concludes, “Scholarly studies have revealed that drug firms design trials that skew the results and that they distort the evidence by selective reporting or biased interpretation.” This distorted evidence goes into clinical guidelines that become, Lisa Cosgrove and Emily Wheeler note, “essentially marketing tools for drug companies.”
Often Neither Safe Nor Effective
The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER – pronounced “C-DER”) is the FDA division responsible for determining whether new drugs should be approved. Its funding, however, now largely comes not from taxpayers but from the companies submitting their drugs to CDER for review.
This clear conflict of interest and approving so many new drugs with few clinical benefits serve corporate interests more than public interests, especially given the large risks of serious harm. Direct and indirect costs to society far exceed the cost of funding the FDA as a public, independent review body.
New FDA policies to get more drugs reviewed faster so that they can reach patients sooner result ironically in even more drugs being approved with less evidence that they are either safer or more effective. Faster reviews mean the chance that a drug will generate an FDA warning of serious harm jumps from one in five to one in three.
A systematic study of shortened reviews found that each 10-month reduction in review time produced an 18 percent increase of serious adverse reactions, an 11 percent increase of drug-related hospitalizations, and a 7.2 percent increase of drug-related deaths. Only 72 out of 1,300 CDER staff are charged with investigating drug safety, hard evidence that drug safety is a low priority at the FDA.
A recent review of FDA policies in Health Affairs describes how the FDA creates initiatives that ostensibly demonstrate its concern for safety from faster approvals. But the authors then describe how these initiatives frequently fail or backfire. They report no evidence of reduced harm or improved benefit to patients receiving these expedited drugs.
People imagine the FDA has stringent standards that take months or sometimes years for companies to meet. To a degree, that’s true. But the external independent evidence cited here of few new benefits and substantial risks of harm, calls into question what all this costly, lengthy review process is about.
An anthropologist might conclude it’s an elaborate ritual to make the FDA look like a tough watchdog against unsafe and ineffective drugs while it’s an industry-funded lapdog. Consider the easy ride that the FDA gives cancer drugs, requiring little evidence of improved patient outcomes.
For example, approving that new drugs are better than placebo is a low standard when other effective drugs already exist. Placebo trials are also unethical in these situations because they deny subjects in the control arm the use of an effective drug.
Another FDA standard, to prove that approved drugs are “non-inferior,” or not too much worse than an existing drug, does not allow patients to know if the new drug is better than the one they are taking. Using substitute measures for real benefits to patients makes approved drugs look more effective than they are. Allowing randomized trials to be drawn from biased populations that exclude many people who are likely to take the drug and experience an adverse reaction makes new drugs appear safer than they are.
Why does the FDA allow paymasters to design such trials?
Failure To Warn
The FDA is charged with providing physicians and the public with objective, scientific evidence showing that new drugs are safe and effective. Conveniently for drug companies, it carries out this responsibility narrowly by focusing on the label and not on alerting physicians or the public about biased evidence from those trials in leading medical journals that go into guidelines.
The FDA could alert the profession and public about how end points and other details get switched by industry ghost-writing teams, about unpublished negative results, and about positive results published twice; but it does not. Ghost writing and the ghost management of medical knowledge thrive.
To protect the public from unsafe and ineffective drugs and earn public trust, the FDA and Congress must acknowledge the biases described here that result from pharmaceutical corporations financing the public regulator. They should also require two changes: that new drugs demonstrate patient-based clinical advantages through comparative trials, and that these trials be based on the population that will actually take a drug.
These changes would reduce the flood of minor variations shown in Exhibit 1 and the subsequent billions spent on them.
Infographic: A useful tool to find out who owns organic food
Consider this fact: In 1995, 81 independent organic processing companies existed in the United States. Ten years later, Big Food had gobbled up all but 15 of them.
The newly updated “Who Owns Organic?” infographic, originally published in 2003, provides a snapshot of the structure of the organic industry, showing the acquisitions and alliances of the top 100 food processors in North America.
According to The Cornucopia Institute, this chart — authored by Dr. Phil Howard, an Associate Professor in the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State — empowers consumers to see at a glance which companies dominate the organic marketplace.
See the updated version below. (Click on the image to view a larger version,
and then click on it again for even larger detail.) Or see a PDF version here.
If you find the graphic hard to read, you might also wish to check out this graphic created by The Washington Post, which was published in May 2015 and shows 92 organic food brands who are owned by some of the nation’s largest food processors.
Major changes since the last version in May 2013
- WhiteWave’s December 2013 acquisition of Earthbound Farm, the nation’s largest organic produce supplier, for $600 million.
- Coca-Cola acquired a 10% stake in Green Mountain Coffee for $1.25 billion.
- Bimbo Bakeries (Mexico) purchased Canada Bread from Maple Leaf Foods (Canada) for $1.7 billion.
The corporate takeover of organic food
According to a press release from The Cornucopia Institute,
“The chart shows that many iconic organic brands are owned by the titans of junk food, processed food, and sugary beverages—the same corporations that spent millions to defeat GMO labeling initiatives in California and Washington. General Mills (which owns Muir Glen, Cascadian Farm, and LaraBar), Coca-Cola (Honest Tea, Odwalla), J.M. Smucker (R.W. Knudsen, Santa Cruz Organic), and many other corporate owners of organic brands contributed big bucks to deny citizens’ right to know what is in their food.”
“Consumers who want food companies that embody more of the original organic ideals would do well to seek out products from independent organic firms,” Dr. Howard advises. “Given the very uneven playing field they are competing in, independent organic processors are unlikely to survive without such support.”
15 Organic brands that are still independent
Dr. Howard also created the chart, Organic Industry Structure: Major Independents and Their Subsidiary Brands. The independent brands include:
- Alvarado Street Bakery
- Amy’s Kitchen
- Bob’s Red Mill
- Cliff Bar: Luna
- Eden Foods
- Equal Exchange
- Frontier Natural Products: Simply Organic
- Lundberg Family Farms
- Nature’s Path: Country Choice Organic, Enviro-Kidz
- Organic Valley: Organic Prairie
- Pacific Natural Foods
- Sno Pac
- Springfield Creamery: Nancy’s
- Traditional Medicinals
- Yogi Tea
Dr. Howard observes, “I expect more deals to occur, since organic foods sales continue to increase faster than sales of conventional foods, and corporations are flush with cash and/or access to cheap credit.”
(TT) — The massive decline of insect populations in recent years is an environmental crisis that is often overlooked, and by all indications, it seems that pesticides are largely to blame for this problem. However, researchers are currently developing alternatives that can hopefully protect crops for farmers without causing widespread harm to insect populations.
Biopesticides are derived from natural materials like plants, bacteria, and certain minerals. These substances are not harmful to the environment and also pose less of a risk to insects. Some Biopesticides are not even harmful, but just work to repel certain insects from the area, while others only target specific insects in a limited range.
One of the most interesting recent developments in the field of biopesticides is the use of fungi.
Fungus-based pesticides would still kill the insects that attempt to feast on the crops, but this will not be a toxin that gets into the environment, which reduces the widespread exposure to plant, animal and insect life.
Two fungus-based pesticides were developed and patented by the famous mycologist Paul Stamets. One of the products is specifically targeted toward fire ants, carpenter ants, and termites, while his other offering can affect roughly 200,000 insect species.
One of the fungi-based biopesticides, called MycoPesticide, will begin to sprout inside of the insect once it is eaten and will then feed on the creature until it dies, often with mushroom sprouts popping out of its head. It is also not harmful to bees, which has been a growing concern in relation to pesticides.
However, the cost is still a major obstacle for advocates of fungi-based pesticides, as they can be up to 20 times more expensive than chemical pesticides.
Paul Underhill, co-owner of the organic Terra Firma Farm in Winters, California says that the fungi methods are also a bit more difficult to work with.
“Some, like those with fungi, can require special storage, such as refrigeration. [And] the cost to the farmer can easily be 20 times what a conventional pesticide might be,” Underhill told NPR.
The short term financial cost for biopesticides might be higher right now, but hopefully, those prices will start to fall as the development of this technology progresses. It is also important to consider the long term financial and environmental consequences that may not be immediately obvious in the short term.
There are also plant-based pesticides that are currently in development, which could also provide an alternative to conventional chemicals. One example is PureCrop1, a plant-based pesticide company that is partly owned by NBA star John Salley.
According to the PureCrop1, the organic pesticide is made with plant-based materials from grains, and seed crops. Their products do not contain petroleum distillates or synthetics including artificial foaming and thickening agents, builders, reagents, dyes or fragrances.
New solutions can’t come soon enough. According to a new study published this month in the scientific journal PLOS One, America’s agricultural landscape has grown 48 times more toxic to insects in the past 25 years. As Truth Theory reported last month, even fireflies are facing possible extinction all over the world.
The Amazon Rainforest is on Fire and Hardly Anyone’s Talking About It
The hashtag #PrayForAmazonia went viral on Tuesday as social media users attempted to draw the world’s attention to the Amazon rainforest, which has been devastated for weeks by fires so intense they can be seen from space.
According to Euro News, it is unclear whether the fires were caused by agricultural activity or deforestation. Both have accelerated rapidly under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who made opening the Amazon to corporate exploitation a key plank of his election campaign.
Twitter users on Tuesday slammed the media for paying too little attention to the Amazon blazes, particularly given the essential role the rainforest plays in absorbing planet-warming carbon dioxide—a capacity that earned it the nickname “lungs of the world.”
“The Amazon has been burning for three weeks, and I’m just now finding out because of the lack of media coverage,” wrote one observer. “This is one of the most important ecosystems on Earth.”
#ICantSleepBecause The Amazon has been burning for 3 weeks, and I’m just now finding out because of the lack of media coverage. THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ECOSYSTEMS ON EARTH. SPREAD AWARENESS #PrayforAmazonia . Let’s save it. Retweet to spread the information. pic.twitter.com/N5MhWz5DDp
— Dominic Onderi Nyabuto (@HonDommy) August 20, 2019
Satellite data collected by the Brazilian government’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) published in June showed that deforestation has risen dramatically under Bolsonaro, who dismissed the research as “a lie” and fired INPE director Ricardo Galvão for defending the data.
As The Guardian reported, the INPE findings showed the Amazon “lost 739sq km during the 31 days [of May], equivalent to two football pitches every minute.”
The number of forest fires in the Amazon Rainforest in #Brazil is up 82% from last year. The fires are purposely set by ranchers to clear land. They then burn out of control. The Bolsonaro govt has eliminated restrictions on burnings. This must be stopped! #PrayforAmazonia. RT pic.twitter.com/cAyUlqjdRz
— Daniel Schneider (@BiologistDan) August 20, 2019
This is the Brazilian environmental policy under president Bolsonaro. He doesn’t care about life. The Amazon Rainforest’s burning for about 3 weeks and nothing’s been done. @BadAstronomer @azmoderate #PrayforAmazonia #PrayforRondonia pic.twitter.com/haIrQzFdk9
— olhaoalho (@olhaoalho) August 20, 2019
The Amazon rainforest has been burning for 3 weeks! We are on the verge of losing it completely if the fire isn’t put out.
The loss of trees, the loss of biodiversity is what is accelerating CLIMATE CHANGE.
— StanceGrounded (@_SJPeace_) August 20, 2019
As Newsweek reported Tuesday,
One large fire, which started in late July, burnt around 1,000 hectares of an environmental reserve in the Brazilian state of Rondônia—located on the border with Bolivia. This blaze, along with others in the region, created dense plumes of smoke that spread far across the state, endangering the health of people living in the area and the lives of animals.
Two weeks ago, the state of Amazonas in the northwest of the country declared a state of emergency in response to an increase in the number of fires there… Various fires have also been burning in the state of Mato Grosso, according to satellite imagery.
The fires have become so intense that smoke from the blaze darkened the afternoon sky on Monday in São Paulo, Brazil’s most populous city.
“The Amazon rainforest has been on fire for weeks, and it’s so bad it’s literally blotting out the sun miles away,” tweeted Robert Maguire, research director at U.S. government watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington.
The Amazon rainforest has been on fire for weeks, and it’s so bad it’s literally blotting out the sun miles away https://t.co/oDjcECJVgp
— Robert Maguire (@RobertMaguire_) August 20, 2019
The advocacy group Amazon Watch on Tuesday called the Bolsonaro regime’s attacks on the world’s largest rainforest “an international tragedy.”
“What can we do?” the group tweeted. “1. Support the courageous resistance of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. 2. Make clear to the agribusiness and financiers involved in the destruction that we won’t buy their products.”
By Amelia Harris
Staff Writer for Wake Up World
It’s no secret that we are experiencing a world water crisis. But the situation may be more critical than we thought. A new list of 17 countries facing extremely high water stress offers insight into this issue.
17 Countries With Extremely High Water Stress
The World Resources Institute is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to help people live sustainably and protect the environment. The organization recently released a list of 17 countries facing extremely high water stress. These 17 countries represent 25% of the world’s population. (1, 2) In order of severity, they are:
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
- San Marino
For a country to be considered under extremely high water stress, it must be using 80% of its available surface and groundwater annually. These water sources are feeding municipalities, agriculture, and industry. (1)
If a country is using this much of its water, a negative change in availability can have dire consequences. And because of rising temperatures and population expansion, droughts and higher water withdrawals are projected to increase. (1)
The Impacts Of Water Scarcity
Water scarcity can have far-reaching consequences. Of the 17 countries identified with extremely high water stress, 12 are located in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Experts have identified that water stress can intensify conflicts and migration in these regions. And because water is used to grow crops as well as power industry, food insecurity and financial instability are other possible realities. (1)
Places that have relied on groundwater for years are now finding that it’s running out. Mexico City is sinking because it’s using groundwater so quickly. Dhaka, Bangladesh has to draw water from aquifers that are hundreds of feet deep to supply its residents and many garment factories. (3, 4)
India, whose population is three times larger than all 16 of the other countries on the list combined, has widespread water issues. But the situation in Chennai, India’s sixth-largest city, is particularly challenging. The city has run out of groundwater, and the four reservoirs that provide Chennai with water have run dry. And to make matters worse, 2019’s late monsoon season means more time between the replenishing these reservoirs. (3, 4)
Water Stress In The United States
The World’s Resources Institute ranked the United States as having low-medium baseline water stress. But the U.S. is a large country with diverse ecosystems, and water scarcity varies from state to state and city to city. In particular, the Southwest, western Great Plains, and some of the Northwest have water supplies that can’t keep up with the demands of their citizens. (2, 5)
Much of the U.S. has experienced a drop in rainfall in recent years, leading to widespread drought. Water is a limited resource in places like California, where 66% of its agriculture faces extremely high water stress. Drought impacts two-thirds of Texas. And there are fears of a modern Dust Bowl in Colorado. (6)
It is hard to tell if these conditions will improve, as rainfall rates become more unpredictable in the coming years. And as average temperatures rise, soil dries out. So even if more rain does fall, it will remain challenging for farmers to water crops and feed their herds. (6)
Steps To Take For A Water-Secure Future
With a global water crisis looming, many are looking for small-scale actions they can take to be a part of the solution. On a cooperative scale, countries, states, and cities can evaluate their water usage. They should identify ways to decrease demand and invest in water efficiency systems. They can plan for droughts by collecting rainwater, refurbishing unused wells, and cleaning lakes and wetlands. Companies are also responsible for assessing and mitigating their water usage. (3, 6)
Additionally, individuals can take steps to conserve water in their homes and practices. These actions include:
- Never leave faucets running unnecessarily (washing dishes, brushing teeth, shaving, etc.)
- Take shorter showers – set a timer to get the hang of showering efficiently
- Fix any leaks as soon as you discover them
- Switch to low-flow toilets and shower heads
- Harvest rainwater for non-drinking functions, like watering the garden or irrigating your yard. (7)
- Repurpose clean water from the sink or shower (waiting for the water to get hot) for plants
- Grow or purchase foods that require less water to grow. For instance, millet needs far less water than rice. (3)
- Buy clothing made from flax, linen, or monocel, which is a bamboo material that uses a reduced amount of water and toxic chemicals. Cotton takes an incredible amount of water to grow, so purchasing clothing that uses alternative fabrics is a great way to conserve water. (8)
As with any resource, consciously doing your part to conserve water where possible goes a long way. It may seem like a small contribution, but multiply that by 7.5 billion people, and the amount of water saved could make all the difference.
About the author:
Amelia Harris is a writer and eco-activist, interested in health and all things esoteric, with a passion for sharing good news and inspiring stories. She is a staff writer for Wake Up World.