Posts Tagged ‘Shawn Dell Joyce’

Mother’s Day Alternatives

Friday, April 27th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce

All the flowers in corporate chains and box stores are imported. The cheap abundance of imported flowers not only has an impact on mom and pop florists as well as supermarkets, but also makes it very hard for American growers to compete. One California grower complained: “We can’t allow other countries to come in and impact our bottom line in the name of free trade. How can you compare foreign labor costs of $3 an hour with California’s labor costs of $12 an hour?”

There’s a slim chance the flowers bought for Mom were grown domestically. California was the leading provider of cut flowers in 2005, accounting for 73 percent of domestic flower production.

“We can’t compete with imports,” another California nursery owner said. “Those flowers are loaded with pesticides that California growers can’t even think about using.” A survey on Colombian flower plantations found that workers were exposed to 127 different pesticides. One-fifth of the chemicals used in flower production in South America are restricted or banned in the United States and Europe, such as DDT. Since there are very few environmental laws in South America, these chemicals wind up in drinking water, causing species to decline as well as damaging human health.

Workers are often denied proper protection and become sick after applying herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. Two-thirds of Colombian flower laborers (mostly women) suffer from impaired vision, respiratory and neurological problems, disproportionately high still-birth rates, and babies born with congenital malformations. When workers try to organize unions to defend their interests, they are often fired, ridiculed or harassed.

In response to the horrendous social and environmental costs of cut flowers, green entrepreneurs like Gerald Prolman have stepped up to the plate. His company, Organic Bouquet, in Marin County, Calif., is one of the concerns trying to establish a niche market for organic flowers in the U.S. Another green entrepreneur, Josh Dautoff, in Watsonville, Calif., converted his parents’ chemically reliant fields and greenhouses to organic.

“It’s ironic that people will pay more money for organic food for their dinner plate because they are afraid of chemicals,” he said. “But then they will buy conventionally grown flowers that are covered in chemicals for the centerpiece of their dinner table. Those chemicals will catch up with people; maybe not through their mouths, but through the water and air.”

Organic florist Lynn Mehl or Good Old Days Florist in New Windsor had an epiphany recently when she discovered the thorny underside of the floral industry. “I did a little research on my (previous) products,” Mehl said, “and found that roses alone, according to recent studies, can contain up to 50 times the amount of pesticides that are legally allowed on our food. I shop organic, I support fair wages, I cannot consciously continue with a business practice that is against all that I have supported for years.”

“And would you believe,” adds Mehl, “I am the only professional florist buying these flowers on the East Coast for resale?”

Want to celebrate both Mom and Mother Earth this year?

–Ask your local florist for organic flowers.

–Buy flowers from a local farm or grower directly.

–Give Mom a live plant from a local store or grower.

–Or give her an edible bouquet of salad greens and flowers from a local farm.

–Buy her a flat of flowers and plant them in flower beds for her.

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School of Art in Montgomery.

Bargain Priced Gas

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce
The price for regular unleaded gasoline has leaped over the $4 a gallon mark, but even at $4, we are not paying the real cost. Our federal government subsidizes the oil industry with numerous tax breaks, price protection, and research and development funding that totals billions of dollars every year. These subsidies help keep domestic oil companies competitive with international producers, and keep gas relatively cheap at the pump.

In some other countries, like Bosnia, you would pay $10.86 a gallon because there are fewer government subsidies. Paris is at $6.52, Berlin at $6.42, and Amsterdam at $7.

That $4 we pay at the pump can be divided into four main categories: taxes, refining, marketing/distribution, and the price of crude, according to a special report by CNN Money.
Crude oil is the most expensive part of a gallon of gas, costing over $2. This money goes straight to big producers of crude, or national oil companies controlled by countries like Saudi Arabia, Mexico or Venezuela.

The U.S. government takes about 20 cents from each gallon, on top of state taxes, which vary greatly, but average about 22 cents a gallon. Most of this money is used to build and maintain roads (which is why removing the gas tax is a bad idea). Refineries, such as Valero, Sunoco, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips, eat about 25 cents a gallon.

Transporting the gasoline to retailers and the cost of marketing and distribution also take about a quarter each. Meanwhile, your local gas station gets only about 10 cents a gallon.
But the price we pay at the pump is only the tip of the iceberg of the real cost of gas. Many expenses related to using gas are externalized, meaning we either pay for them through our taxes, or leave them as a balance due for future generations. These “hidden costs” include naval patrols of oil shipping lanes and military presence in oil producing countries, air pollution from auto exhaust, increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, and environmental devastation caused by drilling, laying pipelines, oil spills, and economic damage caused by importing foreign oil.

If all these hidden costs were actually tallied into the price of gas, we would pay well over $5 per gallon, according to the National Defense Council Foundation. The economic penalties of America’s oil dependence total $297.2 billion to $304.9 billion annually, making the true cost of a fill-up over $100.

Terry Tamminen, author of “Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction,” estimates that the true cost is actually much higher. Tamminen states that “Americans subsidize the oil and auto industry to the tune of about $6 or more for every gallon of gasoline sold, making the real price at the pump $10 per gallon.”

Tamminen also points out that it is difficult for “alternative fuels to compete against such massive subsidies, until mass-production of alternative fuels (and vehicles that use them) can bring the price down. Such incentives can also be considered an economic stimulus package, because those investments create jobs in America instead of sending more than $650,000 every minute to foreign countries for our addiction to oil (based on $75/barrel for oil).” The current price is over $100.

A side benefit of climbing gas prices is an increased awareness of the need to use gasoline more efficiently. A recent survey showed that American consumers list fuel economy as the most important factor when they purchase a new car (previously, the number of cup holders was most important). If we had to pay the true cost of fuel at the pump, we would all ride bicycles and drive electric cars.

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School of Art in Montgomery.

Earth Day

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce

The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, came on the heels of the Vietnam peace movement. This was a volatile era of monumental social change fueled by sit-ins and teach-ins, demonstrations, rallies, and a changing political consciousness. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson modeled the first U.S. Earth Day as an environmental “teach-in.” More than 2,000 colleges and universities, roughly 10,000 primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the country participated.

It was also the first time we saw the famous picture of the Earth photographed from the moon by the Apollo astronauts. It was then that many of us first saw the earth in its entirety, and likened it as U Thant did to a spaceship.

Earth Day “brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform,” noted Senator Nelson. Legendary singer and activist Pete Seeger performed and was the keynote speaker at the Washington D.C. event. Ali McGraw and Paul Newman attended the New York City event.

Senator Nelson gave credit to the first Earth Day for persuading U.S. politicians to pass important environmental legislation. Many important laws were passed by the Congress in the wake of that first Earth Day, including amendments to the Clean Air Act, and laws to protect drinking water, wild lands and the ocean. Many of these laws are being attacked right now in Congress.

“Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level,” Senator Nelson said. “That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself. Earth Day has become the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated in 175 countries by more than 5 million people.”

Celebrate Earth Day this Sunday by attending Trees for Tribs – short for tributaries – with the Conservation Advisory Council. Meet at Wooster Grove Park in Walden at noon, and join other volunteers helping plant the 200 trees and shrubs along the Tin Brook in Walden.  If you can help, call Patricia Henighan at 778-0214 or contact by email

Then, attend a free screening of “FRESH” an independent documentary film at the Wallkill River School of Art in Montgomery, from 3 p.m. to 5 on Sunday. Afterwards, will be a discussion with two local farmers about ways to localize our food system and possibly set up a purchasing cooperative.

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School of Art in Montgomery, and a nationally-syndicated newspaper columnist.


In Memory of Alice Dickinson

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Alice Dickinson passed away late Easter Sunday after a long and painful coexistence with cancer. Many people battle cancer, but Alice was told from the diagnosis that there wasn’t much that could be done. And instead of battling, she worked on accepting, and bringing those of us who love her, to acceptance as well. In dying, Alice taught me how to appreciate life, and to live each moment to the fullest.

Maybe you didn’t know Alice, but you have probably been affected by her actions without realizing it. Alice founded a nonprofit called the Rural Development Advisory Council (RDAC), which saved countless people from foreclosure, and brought Green Jobs New York to our area.

RDAC has built senior housing in the Town of Montgomery, and created many local jobs. One of Alice’s passions was affordable housing, so that “people who live here can afford to work here, and people who work here can afford to live here.”

She fought for affordable-housing laws in the Town of Montgomery, and won more battles than she lost. She also served on Montgomery’s Industrial Development Agency to help shape the economic development strategies for our town to reflect human needs. She advocated for open space, pedestrian-friendly downtowns, mass transportation – the things that make a town more livable. Alice was a community-builder, and had no real financial stake in the things she worked for, just a deep, abiding caring for our county and its residents.

I met Alice at a Town Board meeting. We often wound up on the same side, which was usually the minority opinion, during those meetings. I’ll never forget her eloquence at a meeting when she called for raising our building codes to meet Energy Star Standards. The overwhelming opinion was against us. Yet Alice spoke truth to power many times, and never backed down. She was a mentor and a “shero” to me.

I always admired her tenacity, much of which came from being a single mom to her four children. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her to parent these lovely people and start a nonprofit at the same time. She taught me that life’s experiences often shape us to handle the challenges that are later dealt to us. Alice’s children are all unique individuals who reflect her strengths and community-mindedness. For example, her daughter Faith stepped up to the plate and took over leadership of RDAC when her mother was unable to function effectively.

Faith has made decisions and run the business with the same spirit and heart that Alice would have.

Alice didn’t want a traditional funeral. So her daughter and friends threw a party for her while she was alive. Last fall there was a “roast” for Alice, at which many people were able to say their piece to her. She leaves behind many close friends and a loving family. She was blessed with a sweet husband, Chuck, who stood by her and cared for her during her illness. She faced death with dignity and grace, the way she dealt with life. Community builders are rare people, and we were lucky to have her in our midst. If you were touched by Alice, or want to see her life’s works carried on, please support the Rural Development Advisory Council (RDAC) in Walden.

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School of Art in Montgomery, NY.


Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce
Litter: The rains wash it onto our lawns, collect it in the gutters, and consolidate it in storm drains. With no leaves as camouflage, we see the plastic bags caught on bare branches. Beer bottles, tin cans and Styrofoam cups nestle like Easter eggs under shrubs and bushes. Litter is a man-made blight on the landscape.

But litter doesn’t end in the Wallkill Valley. In his eye-opening book “The World Without Us,” an account of how the earth would fare if no people lived on it, Alan Weisman describes a small continent of litter floating in a huge area of the Pacific Ocean north of the equator known as the Northern Pacific Subtropical Gyre. His words: “It was not unlike an Arctic vessel pushing through chunks of brash ice, except what was bobbing around them was a fright of cups, bottle caps, tangles of fish netting and monofilament line, bits of polystyrene packaging, six-pack rings, spent balloons, filmy scraps of sandwich wrap, and limp plastic bags that defied counting.”

What is the source of all this flotsam and jetsam? Captain Charles Moore of Long Beach, Calif. is quoted in Weisman’s book as concluding that “80 percent of the mid-ocean flotsam had been originally discarded on land. It blew off garbage trucks, out of landfills, spilled from railroad shipping containers, washed down storm drains, sailed down rivers, wafted on the wind, and found its way to the widening gyre.”
According to the Keep America Beautiful campaign, “People tend to litter because they feel no sense of personal ownership. In addition, even though public areas such as parks and beaches are public property, people often believe that someone else, like a park maintenance or highway worker, will take responsibility to pick up litter that has accumulated over time.”

Walk through Winding Hills Park or Benedict Park in Montgomery, or any of the Rail Trails in Orange County, and you’ll see that otherwise normal people are thoughtlessly dropping trash. These folks are our friends, neighbors, and (gulp) even ourselves. So how can those of us who do really give a hoot stop this blight?

Keep America Beautiful engages people in cleaning up their community and engendering the feeling that they have a vested interest in their environment. The organization points out that litter can also appear accidentally. As in overflowing garbage cans waiting for curb-side collection, or from trucks at construction sites that are not properly covered. And even from municipalities that don’t offer litter cans and receptacles in public places.

Every year, Keep America Beautiful hosts the Great American Cleanup from March 1 to May 31. This is the nation’s largest annual community improvement program, with 30,000 events in 15,000 communities. Last year, volunteers collected 200 million pounds of litter and debris; planted 4.6 million trees, flowers and bulbs; cleaned 178,000 miles of roads, streets and highways, and diverted more than 70.6 million plastic (PET) bottles and more than 2.2 million scrap tires from the waste stream.

10 Reasons to Join CSA

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce

A new model of agriculture is catching on in our region; Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) offers farmers a guaranteed income during these uncertain economic times, and gives supporters part of the bounty of fresh produce.

In CSA, a shopper buys a weekly “share” of a participating farm’s harvest, and in return receives an assortment of locally grown fruits and vegetables. If the glorious taste of that isn’t enough to convince you about the worthiness of CSA, here are 10 more good reasons to join a local participating farm:

–The typical American forkful of food has traveled 1,500 miles from the farm to your mouth. When you join a CSA farm, you avoid all those diesel emissions from transporting the food. Additionally, because the produce hasn’t been commuting for a week to get to you, it’s much fresher and tastier.

–You know what you’re getting when you buy from a local farm. Many conventional farming practices are cruel and unhealthy. When you buy locally, you can see how the animals live. Most of these farms are run by small scale producers who allow animals to roam freely, graze on grasses (which is much healthier for them and us), nurse their young, and live a good life. The farms I buy from treat animals with respect and honor, which is important to me.

–Being a member of a farm helps to build a closer community. When share members come to pick up their weekly box of produce, they swap recipes, chat with the farmer, and discuss the weekly bounty. CSA farms often become gathering places, hosting potluck dinners, special events and even classes. The operators of Phillies Bridge Farm in Gardiner often show movies in their barn for share members.

–You create memories for your children and yourself. Some of my fondest recollections are picking ripe grape tomatoes with my young son on a hot summer day. The tomato plants, laden with deep red fruits, towered over our heads. Some were so ripe they would split in your fingers as you pulled them from the vine. We popped the lovely little split ones right into our mouths, and the flavor burst on our tongues. I’ll never forget the taste of those tomatoes, warm from the sun, dribbling down our chins.

–Connect yourself to the land and the season. Nothing tastes quite like a crisp apple on a cool fall day, or hot buttered corn off a summer grill, or baked squash in mid-winter. When your family is a member of a farm, you are treated to seasonal produce. Things naturally taste better in their season.

–Get to know your region. Farms are beautiful, and fun to visit. Be a tourist in your hometown. Many of our small farms rely on agri-tourism. Visiting a working farm gives your family a taste of our region’s history and local flavor.

–Money spent at a local farm stays local and grows. British researchers found that money spent at local farms multiplied because the farmer used a local bank, bought seed and supplies locally, advertised in local papers, and paid local employees. These “farm dollars” had twice the economic impact of the same amount of money spent at a chain grocer. Farmers tend to help and support one another rather than compete. As a result, CSA farms often offer produce grown on other farms.

–You acquire a taste for new flavors. Have you ever eaten a sunchoke? How about tossing some fresh purslane into a salad? When you read the word “sorrel” does a lemony flavor come to mind? Broaden your palate by joining a farm. The farm gives you a bit of everything it grows, which often includes a few things you may not have heard of. This is a great way to find your new favorite vegetable. Mine is the spicy hot daikon radish, long as your arm and white as potatoes.

–Preserve open spaces. When you participate in CSA, you support a farming family. This helps preserve the farmlands as well. If you appreciate the view of pumpkins and vines growing in the fields along Route 211 in Wallkill, support Sycamore Farms. The only way our farmers can afford to pay the taxes on those picturesque views is if we support the farms.

–An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Eating fresh, organic vegetables makes your family healthier, and saves you sick time and medical expenses. The fresher your vegetables, the higher the vitamin content, according to nutritionists.

For a list of CSA farms in your area, visit or stop into the Wallkill River School of Art in Montgomery for personal recommendations.

Grey Water

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce
Each of us uses up to 36,000 gallons of water a year, topping over 146,000 for a family of four, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

That’s a lot of freshwater funneled down the drain and into overflowing septic tanks and sewers. At least half that water could be recycled and used again. That half is called grey water.

Grey water is not to be confused with black water, which flows from toilets and kitchen sinks. It is from the bathtub, shower, sink, laundry and dishwasher, and contains very few pathogens.

While this water is not for human consumption, it is fine for watering landscaping, flushing toilets or washing clothes. People who travel in recreational vehicles understand this concept very well.
Some water-conscious homeowners are designing grey water plumbing systems into their new homes. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) program, installing a grey water reuse system in a new home costs from $500 to $2,500. Homeowners’ costs may vary depending on local code requirements for grey water and the costs of monthly treatment and water quality tests.

A built-in home grey water system separates the grey from black water and drinking water. It filters and sterilizes grey water without using chemicals then pipes it into a cistern for use in exterior watering and clothes washing. A screen catches hair and fibers. Then, special biocultures in a second chamber filter out organic compounds. An ultraviolet light sterilizes the grey water on its way to storage.

While that’s all nice if you’re building a new home, it’s not as easy to retrofit an existing house. Many people have taken to building their own simple grey water systems. You can watch a simple “how-to” video on You Tube about building a sink into the back of a toilet. Water from the sink fills the tank for the next flush. There’s a wonderful website and book produced by the Grey Water Guerrillas called “Dam Nation” which offers plans for simple grey water systems, and an overview of the politics of water.

Right now, more than a quarter of the world’s population has no access to safe drinking water. That’s one out of every four children, men and women. As one of its millennium goals, the United Nations is determined to reduce that statistic by half. If we all made a little effort to conserve and reuse water, each of us could save enough water to quench the thirst of 300 people a year.

If you would like to learn how to make your own rain barrel, and use grey water in your gardens, contact the Conservation Advisory Council for the Town of Montgomery, or take Cornell Cooperative Extension’s “Create Your Own Rain Barrel” workshop on March 31 at the Extension Office in Middletown.

Recalling the Famine

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I’d like to take a moment to remember the one of every eight Irish people who starved to death in the Great Potato Famine of 1840.

While there were many political reasons behind that genocide, one of the greatest preventable mistakes was monocropping, or the practice of planting the same potato variety in the same fields year after year. This made it easy for a blight to wipe out nearly an entire crop in one season, and decimate a country over three years.

A new independent documentary film called Fresh examines the American food system and how we are committing the same preventable mistake, along with many others, by placing all our proverbial eggs in one basket. Fresh points out that essentially two American corporations, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, process almost every bite of food we put in our mouths that we do not purchase from local farmers. The dangers in this are to our health, soil fertility, economic health of family farms, and the long term health of the environment.

You probably never heard of Cargill and Archer, or the farming practice that holds sway today, but you are directly and adversely affected by them this very moment. Their main products are high fructose corn syrup and soy bean oil, which are present in almost every food on supermarket shelves. You would be hard pressed to put together a conventional meal without one or both of these ingredients. The rest of their profit comes from converting government-subsidized commodity crops into animal products commonly known as meats.

Farmers, if they want to deal with these Big Ag corporations, must play by certain rules, which often include monoculture and using genetically modified seeds and chemical inputs that destroy human and environmental health. Fresh examines the fact that a medium size organic farm is more profitable than any size industrial agriculture operation (including CAFO’s or Confined Animal Feeding Operations). The film also suggests that feeding the world lots of high fructose corn syrup may not curb world hunger quite as much as creating localized food systems that feed local populations.

In other words, less emphasis on cheap food, more emphasis on nutrition.
Some areas in our country as well as other parts of the world are considered “food deserts” because you could buy a soda there but not a fresh apple. In these food deserts, cheap food reigns supreme in fast food restaurants, stores carrying mainly processed foods, but no fresh vegetables, fruits or organic anything. Such deserts are often in poverty-stricken communities like Native American reservations and inner cities where families must often choose between food and utilities.

Less extreme are areas where people are so acclimated to cheap food that they balk at the higher cost of local produce. This happens where people purchase groceries primarily in big box stores that pay farmers the cheapest possible prices for food produced with little regard for anything but a lower price tag. What we don’t pay for at the cash register, we leave as a “balance due” to future generations in the form of depleted soils, polluted lakes and streams, and lost livelihoods of small farms.

Fresh calls for good food, not cheap food, and a localized food system that feeds your body and the community, and preserves our planet. The film examines real farmers using polyculture farming methods to produce real food, and the real food eaters who love them. Come see Fresh and decide for yourself how to best feed our friends and neighbors here and around the planet.

The Wallkill River School of Art in Montgomery will offer a free screening of Fresh in honor of Earth Day on April 22nd at 3 p.m. Bring a local food dish to share (optional) and meet local grass farmers (meat producers), and spin farmers (veggie producers) while enjoying fresh apples and cider. RSVP 845-457-2787.

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School of Art, and author of “Orange County Bounty,” a local foods cookbook.

A Locally Grown Energy Upgrade

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce
Elizabeth and John Capello signed up for the Ten Percent Challenge last summer, and decided to retrofit their historic Walden home with energy efficiency upgrades. The Capellos started off by having a home energy audit performed by the Regional Economic Community Action Program (RECAP), based in Middletown. The RECAP auditor made several suggestions that would reduce the Capellos’ energy use and utility bills by 10 percent or more this year.

The main suggestion was to reinsulate their attic, insulate the basement and floors, and upgrade the lighting. The Capellos decided to follow through with all the auditor’s suggestions and have RECAP perform the upgrades. A modest investment, and a few months later, the work was done and the savings began to show.

Elizabeth says that her home “feels warmer and more comfortable” with the thicker insulation. John agrees, adding that it’s safer as well since many of the upgrades improved the electrical usage and reduced the heat output of lighting and home heating. Additionally, the Capellos increased the value of their home, and lowered their monthly utility bills.

According to their recent bill from New York State Electric & Gas Co., the Capellos used four fewer kilowatt hours of electricity and three fewer therms of natural gas, much more than the initial 10 percent goal they set for their home by signing up for the Ten Percent Challenge. If you would like to save money and improve your home’s efficiency, you can sign up today, March 8, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Walden Village Hall, 3rd Floor, 1 Municipal Square, Walden.

Bring your past utility bills, or a 12-month summary of electric and heating use for a Home Energy Makeover, and become part of a county-wide effort to reduce energy use (and costs) by 10 percent or more this year.

If you are looking towards renewable energy systems to reduce operating costs, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) offers significant incentives for solar panels (photovoltaic), small wind and solar thermal systems, and a new program that allows you to finance the efficiency upgrades and renewable energy systems through your utility bill. That means the cost of owning a solar hot water system is financed at a very low rate and deducted from the energy savings on your bill. You don’t notice the added expense because it’s financed to be less than the energy savings. Your bill doesn’t increase but your energy efficiency does.

These programs and incentives don’t last long, so come to the Home Energy Makeover to learn how to take advantage of them now. If you have questions, contact Meridith Nierenberg, at Mid-Hudson Energy $mart Communities, or 845-331-2238, or the Ten Percent Challenge at or on facebook/MontgomeryTenPercent.

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery.


Saturday, February 25th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce
Some 200 million acres of the world’s farms grew biotech crops last year, with over 90 percent of the genetically engineered (GE) seeds coming from U.S.-based Monsanto Corp.

Scientists have taken genetic materials from one organism (like a soil bacterium), along with an antibiotic-resistant marker gene, and spliced both into a food crop (like corn) to create a genetically modified crop that resists specific diseases and pests. There has been no long-term independent testing of the impacts of these genetically modified food products – or “frankenfoods,” as they are known – on the ecosystem or human health. Instead, there is a long litany of concealed truths, strong arm tactics and even outright bribery by the world’s biotech giants.

In the early 1990s when frankenfoods were being evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, several FDA scientists warned that genetically engineered crops could have negative health effects. These scientists were ignored and blanket approvals of genetically engineered crops were awarded. Perhaps one reason for the quick approval process is the revolving door at the FDA, which allows corporate executives from biotech giants to hold decision-making positions in the FDA.

Michael Taylor, for example, was an attorney for Monsanto before being appointed deputy commissioner of the FDA in 1991. Taylor hastened approval of genetically engineered crops through the FDA, then returned to Monsanto to become the vice president for public policy.

It is very difficult to avoid eating genetically modified organisms (GMO) in our country, because they are so pervasive in the food system and unlabeled in grocery stores. Part of the reason for this is biotech giants fought to keep GMO-foods unlabeled. GMOs can be found in most commercially farmed meats, and processed foods. In our country, 89 percent of all soy, 61 percent of all corn, and 75 percent of all canola are genetically altered. Among other foods containing GMOs are commercially grown papaya, zucchini, tomatoes, several fish species, and food additives such as enzymes, flavorings, and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet), and rennet used to make hard cheeses.

To complicate matters, GMOs move around in the ecosystem through pollen, wind, and natural cross-fertilization. The Union of Concerned Scientists conducted two independent laboratory tests on non-GM seeds “representing a substantial proportion of the traditional seed supply” for corn, soy and oilseed rape. The test found that half the corn and soy, and 83 percent of the oilseed rape were contaminated with genetically modified genes, eight years after the genetically modified varieties were first grown on a large scale in the U.S.

The report states that “Heedlessly allowing the contamination of traditional plant varieties with genetically engineered sequences amounts to a huge wager on our ability to understand a complicated technology that manipulates life at the most elemental level.” There could be “serious risks to health” if drugs and industrial chemicals from the next generation of GM crops were consumed in food.

What can you do to avoid GMOs?

–Know how your food is grown and buy directly from local farmers.

–Support organic agriculture and food producers who label their ingredients, particularly dairy farmers.

–Eat pastured meat raised on organic feed; the only way to ensure this is to buy from someone you know.

–Support farmers who are a sued by biotech giants. Monsanto has set aside an annual budget of $10 million and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting more than 150 farmers for a total of more than $15 million.

–Demand labeling on all GMO-containing products so that we at least have a choice.

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery.