Farmarian online community, Post Of The Day | #3. Industrial agriculture, environmental vegetarianism, livestock greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration, climate change

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Poster #1

Is the vegetarian diet really better for the environment? Recent research suggests the answers are a bit more complicated than some seem to think.

Poster #2

1) This study does not actually compare vegetarian diets to analogous omnivorous diets. In fact, it does not examine vegetarian diets at all: It examines the diet used as an exemplar by the USDA, which includes a lot more meat than in any vegetarian diet.

2) The diet used as an exemplar by the USDA calls for higher consumption of fish, which under the rubric used by this study, has among the highest environmental footprint of any food. But vegetarians do not eat fish, so using this data to say vegetarian diets are bad for the environment is simply illogical.

3) Examining the relative nutrition of different foods along only the metric of calories, as is done here between pig meat and lettuce, is a scientistic and misleading comparison. The human body is not a calorimeter, and does not accommodate the nutrients in foods by literally burning them, and so foods with similar caloric values have very different effects on nutrition and satiety. 1,000 kcalories of pig meat is .6 pounds of flesh; 1,000 kcalories of leaf lettuce is about 200 cups of the stuff (about 9 pounds). The arugula has 1000X the Vitamin C, 2000X the Vitamin A, 20X the iron, and 3X as much protein per calorie as the pork — and because the pork was surely raised conventionally (otherwise its land-use figures wouldn’t be so low), the arugula also has a much more favorable composition of fatty acids.

4) Most of the alleged environmental impact for the USDA-approved diet in this study arises because the approved diet removes the sweeteners and processed foods that are a huge part of the Standard American diet. Even assuming that these processed products are better for the environment than real food (which as we saw in point “3)” is VERY dubious), this processed gunk’s impact on human health is so severe that a little more environmental degradation would probably be justified given the alternative levels of human misery.

5) It is true that just because a diet is vegetarian does not mean that it’s better for the environment. But please don’t take this study as good evidence that, on balance, vegetarian diets are not significantly better for the environment.

Poster #1

Doesn’t this miss the point, though? No industrial diet is sustainable. I enjoyed the Washington Post article, because, despite its caveats, it still threw a monkey wrench in the stupid idea that if the world went vegetarian, it would be enough. It still wouldn’t be enough. Because industrial lettuce cultivation generates serious emissions as surely as industrial beef production does.

It’s the same reason I like Teicholz’s book. You aren’t going to produce health by simply excluding any single food group, any less than you will produce environmental friendliness by doing the same.

It’s the wrong paradigm. Yes, meat production may account for half of all agricultural emissions. But that’s still only half. It seems to me that few people are acknowledging this basic fact–instead scapegoating meat to deflect from what is much more fundamental.

Unless I have my facts backwards and mixed up (possible), environmental vegetarianism strikes me as a dangerous illusion.

Poster #2

You’re right that industrial agriculture is an intrinsic part of the problem. But it’s still true that meat-based diets are a huge driver of environmental degradation. Insofar as we’re using this study to say that eating less meat is insufficient, I think we’re on solid ground. But if we’re instead saying that it shows that eating less meat is unnecessary or even harmful, we’re fooling ourselves.

Keep in mind that sustainably-raised meat production requires much more resources than the meat that’s being used as the point of comparison in this study. Feeding the world on diets consisting largely of grass-fed beef would require many multiples of the land we currently use for agriculture, and would thus require lots of encroachment on wild ecosystems.

You’re of course right to say that vegetarianism is insufficient to say you’re being a good environmentalist. But diets with little or no meat have been shown time and again to implicate less environmental damage. (I’m speaking here of studies where vegetarianism is actually compared to analogous meat-heavy diets, unlike in this CMU study.) So if you’re trying to eat an environmentally-friendly diet, vegetarian diets aren’t a silver bullet, but they’re still a damn good rule of thumb.

Poster #1

Needing more land for livestock grazing: okay.

But what about carbon sequestration claims? These have not been falsified, as far as I am aware, at least not according to Savory, his associates, Salatin, and many farmers (including the grass-fed farmer that I buy from; who manages via rotational grazing).

I’m sure you’re familiar with this:

Some other very smart people endorse the counterarguments made by Savory against those who claim that the current trial literature has not supported his claims. ASSUMING this concept is legitimate, then beef, whether through rotational grazing, mob grazing, etc. might be able to play a constructive, even important role in climate change.

Feeding the entire world largely through beef requiring too much land? Sure. This may be true.

Withdrawing support even for ranchers that use rotational systems and can demonstrate increased soil carbon with such methods? Supporting them may contribute to diets that are significantly lower in emissions than vegetarian diets. Beef-heavy enough, might they even be carbon-negative? Perhaps only the vegetarian purchasing from the most progressive, agroecologically oriented farmers might be able to suggest something like that. So where does the score card stand in beef vs. plant-based? Is it still crystal-clear?

The long-term solutions to the problem of agricultural emissions will have to focus less on product and more on process, less on product categories and more on context, details, and management. Conventional vegetarianism may be better than the Standard American Diet, but shouldn’t we also be trying to set the bar just a little higher than that? If the climate crisis is as urgent as Naomi Klein and others say, these facts should also be a part of the discussion, since the bar may need to be raised a bit more quickly than is currently the case.

And for the record, I am concerned with actual deflection on the part of the liberal consensus with respect to this issue. Is moving the discussion closer to plant-based the authentic political dimension to be pursued here? Or is this effort simply going to have to be repeated when it is acknowledged that plant-based is not enough? As radical as it may sound, it actually seems more politically efficient to push everything at once–and perhaps even feasible in the current, rapidly changing cultural climate of food.

Am I wrong?

[This conversation remains ongoing. Updates and highlights will be posted sometime this month or in February.]


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Farmarian online community, Post Of The Day | #2. A Heated Exchange About Food Babe’s Tactics and Motivations

Posts of the day are well-written posts, or groups of posts (a post and its responses) made in the Farmarian Facebook group; such posts or post-responses are reposted here as exemplifying the spirit of the community. We hope that they will also provide something of a repository for past discussions. Posts of the day will remain strictly anonymous, unless the participants request otherwise.

You can request to join the Farmarian Facebook group here.

Poster #1

Are you sure that Vani Hari is doing this just for her own gain? What evidence do you have that she has cynical motives?

That she exaggerates or overstates or even may mis-state information is not evidence for cynical motives; the way she uses evidence may be related to her beliefs, not necessarily to darker motives.

Do you have any evidence that she makes a large amount of money doing what she is doing? Does she peddle supplements on her website like Mercola? Is there evidence that she’s living in a mansion somewhere?

People throw this idea around about Vani Hari that she’s somehow rolling in cash from the traffic to her site. If that’s true, you guys have been exposed to information that I haven’t. Please inform me if you know something that I do not.

Poster #2

I wasn’t even thinking of Vani, but since you brought her up, here is evidence of her blatant money grabbing.

It is not in the form of a scientific study. It is in the form of a fact-checking of her claims of toxic chemicals compared to the products she sells and the same chemicals in them.

While she could very well be an unsuspecting front for a bigger agenda, she has already been caught out in this once before.

Poster #3

Here’s a response I’m about to leave on that Food Babe article:

“Vani Hari is not perfect, but the criticisms in this article are, with few exceptions, very weak.

Hari never said that all “natural flavors” are bad, only that the term is a catch-all that companies often use as a fig leaf for questionable additives. To show that she’s a hypocrite on this score, you’d need to do more work: You’d need to show that the “natural flavors” in these products are actually ones that Hari would find objectionable. But you haven’t.

It seems you’re creating a straw man with regard to Hari and evaporated cane juice. In the Food Babe post you linked to, Hari doesn’t say that she never eats evaporated cane juice; she points out that it’s probably not that great for you (though better than more intensely processed sugars), and says she doesn’t eat a lot of it. Selling a candy as a “treat” intended for occasional consumption seems entirely consistent with her position there. There’s only a hypocrisy if you put words into her mouth, as you do in this post.

The phenylalinine “gotcha” you’ve posted is similar: To my knowledge, Hari never wrote against naturally-ocurring phenylalinine or caffeic acid, but only against the industrially-processed versions. Hari isn’t being crazy here: There are lots of examples of substances that seem to work great in whole foods but lose protective effects or become dangerous in isolation. For example, the antioxidants that are abundant in fruits and vegetables seem to have protective effect against cancer, but antioxidants synthesized or isolated via industrial processes instead seem to feed cancer cells. The entire supplement industry is littered with stories like this: omega-3 capsules, Vitamin A and E capsules, etc. Another example: The sugar in confectioner’s sugar is technically the same kind of sugar found in pears, but the first gives you diabetes while the other doesn’t. But your equivocation here doesn’t allow for this kind of nuance.

What you’re doing here is equivocating between two very different things: the chemicals in food, and the chemicals created or isolated by industrial means. Treating these as exactly the same in all contexts, as you do here, is scientistic and could easily form a basis for dangerous eating behaviors. “Hey, sugar’s all the same, and as a diabetic I can eat whole fruit, so why not eat processed sugar too?”

Out of all this post, the only thing that lands even halfway squarely is your point about Hari and soy lecithin. Yes, she admits that soy lecithin is “junk filler”. But junk filler isn’t necessarily something to be avoided at all costs; it may just be something that could nudge people to superior alternatives, such as chocolates that don’t have soy lecithin. Unless Hari is advocating a guru-like life, these kinds of grey areas are bound to be explored, and met with some kind of compromise. So I think your criticism of Hari here, as are your other criticisms, is pretty unreasonable.”

Curious to hear your thoughts.

Poster #2

I think the writer of the article doesn’t really understand Vani Hari’s point: many natural flavors are not only undisclosed, but actually laboratory compounds. They’re not “natural” at all. The distinction between artificial and natural flavors is largely a function of the kind of processing technique used to produce it. As far as I remember, a bunch of the older techniques characterize “natural” flavors, and a bunch of newer techniques characterize “artificial” ones. But the distinction doesn’t comport at all with what we understand, common-sensically, as natural or artificial.

I looked up some of the natural flavors ingredients. Here’s what I found.

Alter Eco Truffles:

The natural flavoring in our truffles is made from a combination of natural inputs like herb, root and starch and does not contain GMOs or any of the eight major allergens.
– See more at:

Surf Sweets Sour Berry Bears:

We use a number of natural flavors to make our candies taste delicious! All of our natural flavors are organic compliant and do not contain synthetics, GMOs and are not irradiated. For example, we use fruit extracts like orange oil to make the natural orange flavor. The natural flavors do not contain MSG or any of the eight most common allergens.

Here is a complete listing of the natural flavors used in our products:
Gummy Bears, Gummy Worms, Jelly Beans, Fruity Bears & Sour Worms: Cherry, Grape, Grapefruit, Lemon, Orange and Strawberry.
Fruity Hearts: Cherry and Watermelon.
Sour Berry Bears: Sour Cherry, Black Raspberry and Strawberry.
Spring Mix Jelly Beans: Tropical Punch (Pineapple, Passion Fruit, Banana, Orange & Cherry), Pineapple, Mixed Berry (Plum, Strawberry, Blackberry, & Raspberry), Lemonaid, Tangerine.

Yummy Earth Organic Gummy Bears:

Food that is Certified Organic under USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) must be grown and processed using organic farming methods without synthetic pesticides, bio-engineered genes, petroleum-based fertilizers and sewage sludge-based fertilizers and may include natural flavors using only non-synthetic sources and must not be produced using synthetic solvents or synthetic carrier systems or any artificial preservative. MSG and other unannounced artificial ingredients are not permitted in certified organic food. Natural Flavors used in organic food must not contain artificial ingredients or added colors or anything that is processed to fundamentally alter the raw product.

All our Natural Flavors are Organic Compliant Natural Flavors and conform to the regulations of both the FDA and the very strict National Organic Plan (NOP) by the USDA as described above. These YumEarth natural flavors do not contain added MSG or other junk that we would not be proud to put in our family’s mouths. Please note that we consider our Natural Flavors to be secret recipes so we do not reveal the contents of our Natural Flavors. We are aware that some people may not be able to eat some of our flavors because we are unable to reveal the secret recipe and we are truly sorry for this inconvenience.

So, these are not the same thing that Vani Hari criticizes when she writes about natural flavors, with the possible exception of the Gummy Bears. But even in the case of the Gummy Bears, they say they abide by organic standards. If what they write about their flavors is true, it seems clear that they are minimally processed–what we usually think of when we think “natural”–not at all similar to what Vani Hari criticizes.

Some may think that the distinction that Vani Hari makes has no significance and is therefore an unscientific way to distinguish between good and bad food, but that’s not the point. The distinction is real and relevant to a worldview that considers the processedness of a food as a defining marker for healthy eating. I’m not sure I endorse processed food at all, but if you’re going to eat it, it seems reasonable to try to follow standards that Vani Hari is using.

Poster #2

As I mentioned earlier- this isn’t the first time she has been caught saying one thing and doing another.

In an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, Duane D. Stanford wrote that Hari has an apparent financial interest in generating controversy in order to draw traffic to her website to increase ad sales and drive readers to buy a subscription to her organic Eating Guide, which Hari says is her primary source of revenue.[40] Hari’s critics have drawn attention to her affiliated marketing partnerships with small organic and non-GMO brands, that she profits from recommending above mainstream brands. Hari has stated “I’m not doing this to make money. This is my life. This is my passion. This is my calling. There is no way I would put myself on the line like I do because of money. This is all about what I’ve learned, and I have to tell everyone.”[22][8]

A 2015 article in Skeptical Inquirer details products Hari declares as having toxic ingredients while Hari promotes and profits from products containing the same or similar ingredients. Hari’s claims that these chemicals are dangerous have been dismissed by experts in science and medicine as incorrect or exaggerated.[56] Hari has in the past removed products from her site when attention was drawn to them containing chemicals she has spoken against. [57]


Poster #1

She may be financially rewarded by her blogging, but that doesn’t mean she is cynically motivated. Those are two different things.

Unless you have evidence that Vani Hari is exploiting her website to generate large amounts of money, I think you should hold off on those accusations.

I also take exception to the notion that her criticisms are not science-based. Nothing that you have posted in this thread supports that claim. I have looked up some of her claims. And they panned out.

Lots of people come down on Vani Hari, but most of these people seem to have a pretty reactionary orientation toward food. When was the last time such a “science skeptic” went after the USDA for its unscientific recommendations? When was the last time a “science skeptic” went after processed foods?

I’d be glad to hear criticisms of Vani Hari from people who actually seemed interested in changing the food system for the better. So far, that’s not where most of the criticisms seem to be coming from.

I think that Food Babe has been instrumental in many ways for raising consciousness about processed food, and real food. She makes money from what she does, yes. We all have to make money. It’s the part of life that I don’t like so much. (I would prefer if I could be fed grapes and receive massages all day.)

So, two questions: one, does the amount of money Vani Hari makes undermine her claim that she does what she does for the passion of it? Two, do her product recommendations undermine her message? I think I’ve given my opinion about the first question. As for the second, maybe, maybe not. If we all need to make money, and all live in this world, sometimes compromises are necessary. Do such compromises make the main thrust of our lives and messages meaningless?

Show me where Vani Hari seems to be ostentatiously money-grabbing. Show me where the harm she has done has outweighed the good. Until then, I cannot agree with your assessment of her work.


I am not sure that there is sufficient evidence for Vani Hari to definitively make the criticisms that she does, with individual ingredients. Yet there certainly is definitive evidence that, as a whole, our food system is unhealthful.

Is it wrong to get upset at Vani Hari for harping on virtually all individual industrial ingredients—when they, together, nearly comprise what makes industrial food industrial food, which we do understand to be unhealthful?

Critics of Food Babe’s science miss the forest for the trees.

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Farmarians online community, Post Of The Day | #1. Scientific reasons simple GMO labeling might mislead about health risks

Posts of the day are well-written posts, or pairs of posts (a post and a response) made in the Farmarian Facebook group; such posts or post-responses are reposted here as exemplifying the spirit of the community. We hope that they will also provide something of a repository for past discussions. Posts of the day will remain strictly anonymous.

You can request to join the Farmarian Facebook group here.

The following is a post-response pair.


New England Journal of Medicine, published last month.

Summary: GMOs are leading to increased use of pesticides; more safety studies should be conducted; and GMO-containing food products should be labeled as such.


“But widespread adoption of herbicide-resistant crops has led to overreliance on herbicides and, in particular, on glyphosate.5 In the United States, glyphosate use has increased by a factor of more than 250 — from 0.4 million kg in 1974 to 113 million kg in 2014. Global use has increased by a factor of more than 10. Not surprisingly, glyphosate-resistant weeds have emerged and are found today on nearly 100 million acres in 36 states. Fields must now be treated with multiple herbicides, including 2,4-D, a component of the Agent Orange defoliant used in the Vietnam War.

“The first of the two developments that raise fresh concerns about the safety of GM crops is a 2014 decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve Enlist Duo, a new combination herbicide comprising glyphosate plus 2,4-D. Enlist Duo was formulated to combat herbicide resistance. It will be marketed in tandem with newly approved seeds genetically engineered to resist glyphosate, 2,4-D, and multiple other herbicides. The EPA anticipates that a 3-to-7-fold increase in 2,4-D use will result.

“We believe the time has come to revisit the United States’ reluctance to label GM foods. Labeling will deliver multiple benefits. It is essential for tracking emergence of novel food allergies and assessing effects of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops. It would respect the wishes of a growing number of consumers who insist they have a right to know what foods they are buying and how they were produced. And the argument that there is nothing new about genetic rearrangement misses the point that GM crops are now the agricultural products most heavily treated with herbicides and that two of these herbicides may pose risks of cancer. We hope, in light of this new information, that the FDA will reconsider labeling of GM foods and couple it with adequately funded, long-term postmarketing surveillance.”


by Chad Niederhuth

Several things. First…I highly recommend Andrew Kniss’s take on this…who by training, is more of an expert on herbicide usage than Benbrook

1) This is an opinion piece. Scientific and Medical journals regularly publish opinion pieces…they should not be treated in the same way as peer-reviewed research, as the the editorial and review process is quite different.

2) Charles Benbrook does not show that they increase pesticide usage. He shows that they have led to an increase in glyphosate…but this is not the same as saying they increase pesticide usage (which includes insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides)….its not even the same as saying that it has increased herbicide usage, as in most cases glyphosate has simply replaced older and more toxic herbicides…as in the case of corn production:

Rather, GMOs have significantly reduced pesticide use by reducing insecticide use first and foremost.

3) Benbrook cites some astounding number…glyphosate use has increased by a factor of 250…scary…until you realize that rapid adoption of new technology will always increase rapidly…even if as a whole, the situation is very different. Glyphosate use has replaced other herbicides. So while glyphosate use went up 250 fold. Alachor…a once common corn herbicide has decreased ~60 fold. Cyanazine has decreased ~45 fold…so on and so on for many herbicides.

To put things in persepective, Alachor has an LD50 of 930 mg/kg while glyphosate has an LD50 of 5600 mg/kg…making glyphosate over 5 times less toxic than Alachor.

4) It should be noted that not all the increase in glyphosate use is due to GMOs. 18% of all glyphosate is used on non-GMOs. For that matter, we should also keep in mind that herbicide tolerance can be achieved in many ways…GMOs being only one way. When Chipotle switched to non-GMO sunflower oil, citing the negative effects of glyphosate and soybean oil…what they conveniently left out was the fact that many sunflowers are herbicide resistant and that this was developed by traditional breeding. They also conveniently didn’t mention that the herbicide resistance in traditionally bred sunflowers it to ALS inhibitors. These herbicides have far more resistant weeds than glyphosate and they are ~ twice as toxic as glyphosate.

This of course illustrates, that the traits Benbrook is concerned with are not limited to GMOs and why focusing on the method of production is fallacious. We should focus on the specific trait, not how it was made.

5) Benbrook makes misleading claims, such as the idea that the risk assessments for Enlist Dou lacked ecological assessments…that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is the EPA’s environmental risk assessment…be warned, its 103 pages long….

6) Benbrook raise the issue of Glyphosate and 2,4-D being classified as probable and possible carcinogens respectively. Sounds scary, but as rational beings, we should ask what this means. For one, the only group to list it as such was the IARC…there are numerous groups, government agencies that do so. The US, German, etc agencies that do so typically take 5 years of review to classify a substance. The IARC did so in a matter of weeks. It also does not conduct original research…it simply reviews it.

The American Cancer society does a much better job explaining the classification system and the actual reality of risk:

“Carcinogens do not cause cancer in every case, all the time. Substances labeled as carcinogens may have different levels of cancer-causing potential. Some may cause cancer only after prolonged, high levels of exposure. And for any particular person, the risk of developing cancer depends on many factors, including how they are exposed to a carcinogen, the length and intensity of the exposure, and the person’s genetic makeup.”


“The lists themselves say nothing about how likely it is that an agent will cause cancer. Carcinogens do not cause cancer at all times, under all circumstances. Some may only be carcinogenic if a person is exposed in a certain way (for example, swallowing it as opposed to touching it). Some may only cause cancer in people who have a certain genetic makeup. Some of these agents may lead to cancer after only a very small exposure, while others might require intense exposure over many years. Again, you should refer to the agencies’ reports for specifics.

Even if a substance or exposure is known or suspected to cause cancer, this does not necessarily mean that it can or should be avoided at all costs. For example, estrogen is a known carcinogen that occurs naturally in the body. Also, exposure to ionizing radiation is known to cause cancer, with increased risks even at low levels of exposure. Yet there is no way to completely prevent exposure to natural sources of radiation such as cosmic radiation from the sun or radon in soil. These lists also include many commonly used medicines, particularly some hormones and drugs used to treat cancer. For example, tamoxifen increases the risk of certain kinds of uterine cancer but can be very useful in treating some breast cancers, which may be more important for some women. If you have questions about a medicine that appears on one of these lists, be sure to ask your doctor.”

As the ACS points out…estrogen is a KNOWN carcinogen…whereas glyphosate is only listed as a probable one. Alcohol is a known human carcinogen. Caffeine is a probable one just like glyphosate.

The real question then that we should be asking is what the data is that supports this listing and under what conditions is it valid. To simply list it as a carcinogen in the context of increased glyphosate use as Benbrook has done is in my opinion a form of fear-mongering. It is meant to scare, but it doesn’t really provide you with the background information necessary to make an informed decision.

7) Based on this focus on a single trait…Landrigan and Benbrook call for labeling of GMOs…however, that is not informative. As previously pointed out, there are herbicide tolerant non-GMOs that are sprayed with worst herbicides…these would not be labeled. In fact these could be labeled as “non-GMO” and so likely assumed safe by consumers who don’t know better. Furthermore, such a label does not tell you if it is a herbicide tolerant GMO, a Bt GMO, a nutrient enriched GMO (high-oleic soybean oil for instance) or say a virus resistant GMO. Its an uninformative label.

Comments: It would seem to me that what we need is not just GMO labels, but really, a label that contains the most relevant information related to the potential toxicity of the production process. GMO labels in this respect may mislead. On the other hand, people might hold philosophical reservations about GMOs–reservations that are not directly related to safety; these people would still benefit from GMO labels. Nonetheless, the points raised are very interesting; if accurate, they show how far off, in many respects, the debate about GMO labeling is. It’s not only about consumer choice–but, rather, if consumers really want to be informed (rather than simply think they are), they need much more than binary labeling disclosing the mere presence or absence of GMOs.

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