The Lancet Commission released a report last night linking foods with empty calories to malnourishment, obesity and Climate Change. I’m so grateful the news is getting out. What’s the common denominator between these three–obesity, malnourishment and climate change? One big thing: Modern Agriculture.
“Malnutrition in all its forms, including obesity, undernutrition, and other dietary risks, is the leading cause of poor health globally.” That’s quite an opening sentence and makes a statement that needs to be emphasized, obesity is a sign of malnutrition. How could people who eat a lot be malnourished? Because most of our food lacks nutrients! Until our body has satisfied all its nutritional needs, it will remain hungry. Until then, we’ll keep eating. So often people tell those overweight, “Oh you need to exercise more, get moving,” when in actuality lack of exercise may not be the root of the problem at all. Furthermore, those who are lacking vital nutrients, notably certain micronutrients may not through no fault of their own be able to produce the energy needed to be more active. Nutrition is so vitally important to our health, for us to be fit we need to be nourished.
Of course we also must address the hungry and those who don’t have access to food. As the Japan Times noted, “Eating unhealthy food, or not having enough food, has led to rising rates of malnutrition, with 1 in 8 adults globally now obese, while 1 in 9 go hungry and almost 2 billion lack essential vitamins and minerals.” If the majority of food the hungry have access to is food diminished in nutrients, than their hunger will persist as well. Clearly we have a huge problem on our hands.
Let’s delve in to see how food can be lacking nutrients in the first place. Can malnutrition and obesity (and hunger) really be linked to climate change?
To understand how food can be lacking nutrients one only needs to look at the techniques used at modern farms and the condition of soil. These farms did away with the old fashioned ways of tendering the field, and instead adopted industrial chemicals and machines that lead to sick soil. Instead of contributing back to the soil, the rule of return has largely been ignored. Instead of animals pulling plows and gently replenishing soil, the animals were replaced with heavy machines and equipment that disturbs soil.
The culprits mostly responsible for impacting plant nutrients include:
- synthetic fertilizer
- toxic pesticides and fumigants
If the soil isn’t healthy, the vital microorganisms that convert organic matter to minerals and feed the plants’ roots can’t do their job. This leads to reduced nutrients, more toxic agricultural runoff, more severe water contamination and with more fertilizer and fumigants, more greenhouse gas emissions.
“After millennia of rural based agriculture and food production, this all was discarded and governments and their experts emphasized that only an “ecological regime” with industrial foundation will do. They claimed they could relocate agriculture from the ruralities of old to a uniform factory-like environment where industrial fertilizer dominated…” (Josef Vissner, Down to Earth)
FOOD, NUTRIENTS & DISEASE
Synthetic fertilizer and poisonous pesticides: the two substances causing a domino effect. As more is used, more is needed. As a result soil gets depleted of nutrients, soil is more apt to erosion, soil is less apt to retain water and nutrients, more chemicals and nutrients flush away in runoff, which leads to contaminated waterways, toxic algae and deadzones. More pesticides lead to more pesticide drift, superweeds, more disease, and yet more pesticides get applied. It’s a crazy anti-life, anti-nature cycle.
Sick depleted soil cannot support healthy microorganisms. The microbiota in soil enables plants to absorb minerals and nutrients. Without microorganisms and fungi attached to the roots, plants can’t absorb any nutrition from the soil. Depleted plants are weak plants that can’t resist disease. Thereby farmers have to keep adding pesticides and more pesticides to fend off diseases and pests. The end result provides nutrient-less plants loaded with pesticide residues.
To be true stewards of the planet we must embrace natural methods of fertilizing and feeding the soil. The point of eating isn’t merely for calories alone, but for nourishment. Healthy plants from healthy soil must logically nourish us better than unhealthy plants from unhealthy soil. Evidence indicates synthetic fertilizer weakens soil, depletes soil of minerals and microorganisms. Such soil is incapable of producing the highest quality plants, if for no other reason than its lacking in microorganisms essential for the delivery of nutrients and minerals.
Soil really is of significant importance in our quest for health, yet soil quality can vary widely around the world. Soil gets depleted naturally overtime, and without anything added to it, eventually it will run out of minerals and the soil microorganisms will wither. This means that the same plants can be produced but can be quite different depending on the mineral profile of the soil they’re grown in. This translates to foods of better or lesser quality. As soil expert Dr. Charles Northern exclaimed in the 1930s, “the truth is that these foods vary enormously in value, and some of them aren’t worth eating as food. For example, vegetation grown in one part of the country may assay 1,100 parts per billion of iodine, as against 20 in that grown elsewhere. Processed milk has run anywhere from 362 parts per million of iodine and 127 of iron, down to nothing.” Clearly vegetable quality depends on soil, and milk quality depends on the quality of the plants the cows are eating. Everything is so deeply intertwined.
So how do we change this and improve food quality? We must help the soil, and to do it properly we must look to nature. Back in the 1880s Dr. Julius Hensel proved that plants need not just 3 minerals, but trace minerals as well. His secret to rebalancing soil was by using rock dust, or mineral manure—basically ground up rocks, granite in particular. Today you can find mineral and volcanic dust online or at the garden store. Rudolph Steiner, the father of biodynamics also developed soil improvements using antlers and herbal preparations and such that boost soil. Another simple way to feed soil is plant cover crops like legumes, these plants magically make nitrogen in the soil. Instead of raking up your leaves and throwing them away or using a leafblower, let the leaves remain on your lawn and garden. Fallen leaves and plant parts will naturally decompose and provide your soil with food. If you burn wood or plants, don’t throw the ashes away but use these as fertilizer too! Lastly, don’t forget the compost and manure!
Contrary to cultivating health, modern farming methods i.e. applying toxic fertilizer, using pesticides and fungicides, monocropping, fumigation, manipulating with machinery virtually deaden the soil and the happy microorganisms that once lived therein. After such an assault all that remains is lackluster soil and reduced life force, which in turn produces weak plants and food lacking nutrients. Perhaps it’s also threatening mankind’s future, for without soil can we live? As revealed by Lord Northbourne in Look to the Land published in 1930, “Man sets about his desert-making in various ways. He alters the texture of the soil by using up humus and failing to replace it—by failing to feed the soil with organic matter; livestock are the great converters of otherwise unwanted organic matter to a form in which it can be used by plants. Stockless farming, understocking, burning straw, etc., are all cases of failure to observe the “Rule of Return” which is the essence of farming. Only by faithfully returning to the soil in due course everything that has come from it can fertility be made permanent and the earth be made to yield a genuine increase.”
Composting is the art of converting food and waste into fertilizer. It’s really more like alchemy, turning what once was living sun energy into new life. Almost all your food scraps can be used for fertilizer—everything from fruit and vegetable peels, egg shells, tea leaves and coffee grounds to natural materials like paper, sawdust, pencil shavings and fallen leaves. Plant matter can go into the compost bin. Even bones and fish can go in, just be sure to bury them deeply and cover tightly to prevent animals digging them up. To make plants really robust and capable of fending off disease and such, manure must be part of the compost. This is the classic Indore Compost Albert Howard developed in India and studied extensively. The legendary botanist demonstrated without a doubt that vegetable based compost doesn’t give plants the same vigor and disease resistance as compost containing both vegetable and animal manure. Food grown in this compost provided animals with disease resistance as well. Eva Balfour provides the recipe in the classic book The Living Soil, “in practice, it has been found that it is sufficiently accurate if the ratio of mixed vegetable wastes to farmyard manure is 3 to 1 by volume.” Today many advocate for composting manure separately for at least 6 months to allow it break down sufficiently, but the traditional Indore process combined all in one heap. And also of importance, the manure came from animals that ate grass and herbs, not meat eaters. Today there is somewhat of a manure renaissance underway, with composting toilets and buckets taking a wide range of animal waste as well as human waste and urine to the shed. After 6 months to a year of breaking down these substances are actually ripe and quite beneficial for soil. Be careful if you do compost dog and cat waste, though as these must go through a thorough breakdown period to ensure there are no parasites or other harmful bacteria that can ruin your garden. In case you didn’t know, compost helps saves food from going to waste or to landfill. If you don’t garden at home, you may be able to donate your food scraps to a community garden or compost pick up service.
“A healthy plant grown in soil properly balanced will resist most insect pests. A really healthy plant will pretty nearly take care of itself in the battle against insects and blights and will also give the human system what it requires.” Dr. Charles Northern, America’s soil pioneer.
Interestingly, when speaking of soil quality and fertility, the USDA only mentions organic farmers. What on earth then are conventional and GMO farmers doing for soil? With the amount of chemicals they use can any microorganisms or minerals survive?
“Crops more easily resist disease, survive drought, and tolerate insects when grown in good soil. Organic crop producers build soil quality by adding compost, animal manures, or green manures. As soil organisms break down these inputs, they convert nutrients into forms plants can absorb and create humus that sustains soil quality. Organic producers must not apply sewage sludge or biosolids to soil. Additionally, organic crop producers use cover crops to protect the soil from wind and water erosion. Soil-conserving practices include the use of cover crops, mulches, conservation tillage, contour plowing, and strip cropping.”
The most used herbicide is a known mineral chelator . Studies demonstrate that it can reduce mineral availability in soil which results in plants with fewer minerals and nutrients. In some soils it can perhaps have the reverse effect in that it reduces uptake of heavy metals in plants. More research is needed to fully understand the full impact glyphosate (Roundup) has on soil and mineral availability.
Newsweek reports that Americans have applied 1.8 million tons of glyphosate since its introduction in 1974. Worldwide, 9.4 million tons of the chemical have been sprayed onto fields.
Studies show that glyphosate:
- Negatively affects the gut microbiome, and new studies indicate it causes anxiety and depression
- Glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor
- Impairs the liver’s ability to detoxify xenobiotics, and
- Suppresses production of serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, and tryptophan
Is it any wonder Americans are taking more anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications and sleeping pills than ever before? The CDC reports that 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep deprivation. Since 1999, antidepressant use in America has risen 64%.
Modern Wheat: increases appetite & blood sugar
Along with junk food and empty calories in processed foods, modern wheat, though not genetically engineered, may play a big role in obesity and disease. According to Dr. Davis author of Wheat Belly, modern wheat causes more dramatic increases in blood sugar than any other food, contributing significantly to diabetes, weight gain, and acts as an appetite stimulant making us continually hungry. “Wheat elimination is not just about eliminating gluten. Eliminating wheat means eliminating the amylopectin A of wheat, the form of complex carbohydrate that actually increases blood sugar higher than table sugar and candy bars.”
Factory Farm Meat and Dairy
In the US there are nearly 10 billion farm animals raised each year in confined animal farms.
Animals reared on industrial scale factory farms (CAFOs, confined animal feeding operations) are fed GMO feed and administered synthetic hormones and drugs. These compounds are designed to make animals fatter and heavier. When we eat meat or dairy products from these animals we get traces and residues of these compounds that can affect our bodies the same way (increased fat and weight).
“Beef produced in the United States is heavily contaminated with natural or synthetic sex hormones, which are associated with an increased risk of reproductive and childhood cancers. Increased levels of sex hormones are linked to the escalating incidence of reproductive cancers in the United States since 1975 – 60 percent for prostate, 59 percent for testis, and 10 percent for breast, warns the Cancer Prevention Coalition.” Dr. Samuel Epstein, Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois School of Public Health, Source
GMO FEED for Animals: BT Corn and Soy
- The BT insecticide is implanted within the seed and in some varieties, the toxin extends to every part of the plant while growing. It remains in any food developed from the plant.
- Contrary to industry claims that when ingested BT passes through the human gut without harm, BT has been found in the blood of pregnant women and their fetuses thereby demonstrating it does cross through the intestinal wall.
- BT makes holes in insect gut cells and likely does the same in animal and human cells, causing “bowel hypersensitivity,” which is linked with “leaky gut,” colitis, gluten sensitivity, acid reflux, reduced enzyme activity and digestive disturbances.
- Rats fed for 90 days on Monsanto’s MON863 maize (a BT Corn variety) showed “signs of toxicity” in the liver and kidneys.
BT pollen kills monarch butterflies and possibly other animals and pollinators
- Contains residues of glyphosate and its main metabolite, AMPA, a neurotoxin causing glutamate excitotoxicty, oxidative stress, and depression
- GMO soy is nutritionally inferior to organic grown soy
- Soy mimics estrogen and lowers testosterone; eaten raw, soy has an anti-nutrient effect, contains protease inhibitors that inhibit the body’s ability to digest protein, and contains phytates which prevent absorption of essential minerals, soy without fermentation also contains goitrogens, which have an ill effect on the thyroid gland.
SYNTHETIC FERTILIZER and CLIMATE CHANGE
Of all the agricultural chemicals, synthetic fertilizer contributes the most to climate change. Further, scientists have discovered that continued use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers compromises soil’s ability to store carbon, which is essential to mitigate climate change. More damaging news: excess nitrogen weakens the soil’s ability to retain water or nutrients, causes greater need for irrigation, risks further and greater erosion and agricultural runoff. As more synthetic nitrogen is used, more is needed in an endless loop that is devastating for people and planet, yet makes great money sense for fertilizer salesmen. Here are the problems resulting from synthetic fertilizer:
- Nitrous Oxide (NO) Emissions: one pound of nitrogen oxide has a greater effect on climate change than 300 pounds of carbon dioxide.
- Nitrogen fertilizer facitilites emit ammonia and urea dust. Ammonia volatizes and combines with other air pollutants to form secondary particulate matter
- Runoff causes nitrate pollution of groundwater
- Synthetic fertilizer weakens soil, makes soil sick, causes soil acidification
- Synthetic fertilizer eliminates soil’s capacity to store carbon
- As more synthetic fertilizer is used, more and more is needed to help plants grow
- Phosphate fertilizer facilities emit SO2 (sulfur dioxide), SO2 causes acid rain
The low down on Phosphate fertilizer facilities: With phosphate mining, mountains of gypsum is created, and chemical conversion processes, notorious air pollution culprits are emitted: radon, sulfur dioxide, and toxic fluoride gas (which by the way gets collected on wet scrubbers and sold as fluoride in drinking water). Sulfur dioxide creates acid rain and has a dire impact on warming the atmosphere, “Large volumes of SO2 erupted frequently appear to overdrive the oxidizing capacity of the atmosphere resulting in very rapid warming.”
PESTICIDES AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Not only do pesticides contribute to the development of many diseases, they also contribute to Climate Change and deterioration of the earth’s protective ozone layer. During a time when nations are striving to control effects of climate change, shouldn’t everything be done to reduce the use of substances that may contribute to it? In fact the Montreal Protocol was established in order to phase out ozone damaging chemicals like fumigants, however some remain in use through special exemptions.
Recently the FDA expanded the use of fumigants by approving their use on stored grains, nuts and dried fruit. These grains and nuts get turned into many various products we consume. Here are some of the notorious fumigants and what damage they cause:
- SULFURYL FLUORIDE: According to MIT Sulfuryl fluoride contributes 4,800 times more to global warming than carbon dioxide. Even more troubling, it causes brain lesions and vacuolation—in other words, it causes holes in the brain’s white matter. Within the white matter lie the nerve fibers that connect nerve cells. With loss of the white matter, what horrible diseases develop? Think of the spike in Alzheimers and dementia, could this be because of sulfuryl fluoride use in food storage, landscaping, and residential pest control? If a chemical like this isn’t banned, what further harm may come to our health & atmosphere?
- METHYL BROMIDE: Methyl Bromide accumulates in the atmosphere, where it destroys the earth’s protective ozone layer, it’s linked with increased risk of prostate cancer, damages to DNA, lungs and liver, and can cause neurological complications. Through the Montreal Protocol, most nations phased out methyl bromide by 2005. However, the United States approved the continued use of the fumigant under the “Critical Use Exemption” clause. Over 4,000 exemptions were granted; most were given to strawberry and grape growers. Just in 2015 alone, 376 metric tons were used to grow strawberries. It’s also used widely before sealing off shipping containers. 
FACTORY FARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE
As reported by the UN and the University of Iowa School of Public Health, manure and waste at factory farms emit:
- Methane: “37% of emissions of methane (CH4), which has more than 20 times the global warming potential (GWP) of CO2,
- Nitrous Oxide: “65% of emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O), which has nearly 300 times the GWP of CO2.”
- Hydrogen Sulfide: “Levels as high as 1,000 ppm have been reported following the perturbation of manure lagoons, and levels greater than 100 ppm are considered immediately hazardous to life and health. Exposure to these elevated levels of H2S can cause rapid loss of consciousness, and H2S has been implicated in a number of deaths when encountered in confined environments in agricultural settings. The primary mode of absorption of H2S is through inhalation.”
- Ammonia: “The EPA has found that animal agricultural operations are responsible for almost three fourths of ammonia air pollution in the United States.Exposure can lead to pulmonary disease, scarring of upper and lower airways, lung inflammation, at high concentrations it can be fatal.”
PALM OIL AND CLIMATE CHANGE
“Roughly half of the world’s surface area has been converted to land grazed by domesticated animals, cultivated crops, or production forests resulting in the loss of more than half of the world’s forests. This expansion and intensification has led to devastating environmental impacts at local, national, and global levels.”
The demand for palm oil has never been higher than it is today. This has created a huge boon for farmers in Indonesia and tropical climates, but in their wake a footprint of severe everlasting damage upon our fragile earth. Merciless methods of clearing and burning forests (deforestation) puts animals at risk of extinction and drastically impacts climate change. To make matters worse, most of these forests sit on peatland, which when burned intensifies the amount of methane and carbon dioxide released. This notably reverses the peat’s natural role as carbon sink to a role of carbon outputter. When burned the peat releases thousands of years’ worth of carbon.
Palm oil derived from these reckless methods sells for bare bone prices that corporations can’t refuse. Hence, many food manufacturers, cosmetic and detergent makers keep using this unethically produced palm oil. It’s a brutal cycle, for as sales continue, more forests get cleared to make room for yet more palm tree plantations, which results in endless suffering for the planet.
WHERE IS PALM OIL HIDING?
Palm oil is in everything from pastries and donuts to shampoo, soap, chips, peanut butter, margarine, salad dressing, condiments, noodles, dough, and detergents. “It may be identified as: Palm Oil Kernel, Elaeis gunieensis, Palmicitic Acid, Palmate, Palmitate, Hydrogenated Palm Gylcerides Hexadecanoic, Vegetable Oil, Sodium Laureth Sulphate, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, Steareth, SDS Sodium, NaDS Sodium, Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate Steareth, Steareth -20 Emulsifier.” Learn more http://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/which-everyday-products-contain-palm-oil
EXTINCTION: Animals on the brink of extinction because of Palm Oil
Orangutan (Sumatran and Bornean), Sumatran Tiger, Bornean Pygmy Elephant, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Malayan Sun Bear.
The good news is palm oil farming can be done considerately and sustainably. In order to support that shift though we have to be aware of the countless products we use everyday that contain palm oil. Where does that palm oil come from? If you care about forests, about protecting animals and the earth, and eliminating the causes of climate change, you must consider purchasing products that either have no palm oil or contain palm oil that’s sourced sustainably. By avoiding palm oil derived from sensitive ecosystems we can help the earth heal.
If you’ve read this far I am grateful that you care and took the time. As you can see there are a lot of points to cover within the Big Agricultural spectrum. Pesticides, synthetic fertilizer, factory farming, GMOs, glyphosate, palm oil, the list and all the side roads are almost endless. Yet the main point is that returning to nature, returning life force to the soil and protecting the nature entrusted to us can in turn save our species and save the planet. That’s all for now.
I’m signing off with a message from the President’s Cancer Panel of 2010. They determined that we can reduce our cancer risk by reducing exposure to pesticides. I think it’s safe to say we can reduce our risk of malnutrition and obesity by eating foods of good quality. Naturally, only foods grown naturally and ethically can be of good quality. Further we can reduce our progression into climate change by reverting back to natural methods and throwing the chemicals out the window (so to speak). Let us no longer be manipulated or fooled into thinking we can grow quality, nourishing food without nature as our companion. Nor can we be healthy with food lacking nature within.
“Individuals can take important steps in their own lives to reduce their exposure to environmental elements that increase risk for cancer and other diseases. Exposure to pesticides can be decreased by choosing, to the extent possible, food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers and washing conventionally grown produce to remove residues.”
 Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases III: Manganese, neurological diseases, and associated pathologies, Anthony Samsel, Stephanie Seneff, Surgery Neurology International, March 24, 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4392553/
 Prescription Sleep Aid Use Among Adults: United States, 2005–2010 Yinong Chong, Ph.D.; Cheryl D. Fryar, M.S.P.H.; and Qiuping Gu, M.D., Ph.D, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db127.pdf
 USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, http://passel.unl.edu/pages/informationmodule.php?idinformationmodule=959031259&topicorder=4&maxto=9
 Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada, AzizArisabcSamuelLeblancc, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0890623811000566?via%3Dihub
Developmental exposure to glyphosate-based herbicide and depressive-like behavior in adult offspring: Implication of glutamate excitotoxicity and oxidative stress,DaianeCattaniabPatrícia AcordiCesconettoabMauren KrugerTavaresaEduardo BenedettiParisottoabPaulo AlexandreDe OliveiracCarla Elise HeinzRiegabMarina ConcliLeitedRui Daniel SchröderPredigercNestor CubasWendtaGuilhermeRazzeraaDanilo WilhelmFilhobArianeZamon, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0300483X17301683
Compositional differences in soybeans on the market: Glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready GM soybeans,T.BøhnabM.CuhraabT.TraavikabM.SandencJ.FagandR.Primiceriob https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814613019201
 Fertilizer SO2: Sulfur Dioxide Initiates Global Climate Change in Four Ways, Peter L. Ward, 2009, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040609009000169
 Methyl Bromide: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3807750/
 Global Land Outlook, United Nations Report, p. 36 https://knowledge.unccd.int/sites/default/files/2018-06/GLO%20English_Full_Report_rev1.pdf and Domesticated Nature: shaping landscapes and ecosystems for human welfare, 2007, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17600209
See the full Lancet report: The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change