Take it up for Earth Day

Earth Day Canada (www.earthday.ca) is issuing action-based challenges urging all Canadians –kids, classrooms, groups, businesses, individuals and families – to make positive changes to their daily habits. The challenges run from April 1 to April 30 and encourage participants to take up a new action for 21 days, a period long enough for the action to become a part of their daily routine.

Lifestyle choices are typically based on convenience, complacency and habit, but these come with a price. Earth Day Canada’s “Take it up for Earth Day” [http://www.earthday.ca/takeitup/] campaign can help you make better decisions about what you eat, drink and what resources you use. Try something new that’s good for you and the planet. Take up one (or more) of these pro-environmental behaviours:

  • Eat and prepare plant-based foods at home.
  • Drink tap water and get water-wise.
  • Detox your personal care routine.
  • Activate your lifestyle with outdoor, unplugged activities.

Earth Day Canada (EDC), a national environmental charity founded in 1990, provides Canadians with the practical knowledge and tools they need to lessen their impact on the environment. In 2004, the Washington-based North American Association for Environmental Education, the world’s largest association of environmental educators, recognized EDC as the top environmental education organization in North America, for its innovative year-round programs and educational resources. In 2008, it was chosen as Canada’s “Outstanding Non-profit Organization” by the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication. EDC regularly partners with thousands of organizations in all parts of Canada.


What’s in our food?

A syringe draws fluid from a strawberry

It's our right to know

by Joseph Roberts


A syringe draws fluid from a strawberry• There are two historical initiatives going on right now in America. In California, a campaign called “It’s our Right to Know” (www.label gmos.org) is pressing to get a million signatures so that labelling of genetically modified foods is on the ballot for 2012. (The next US presidential election takes place November 6, 2012.)

A survey showed that more than 90 percent of Californians want the right to know what is in their food. People are taking back their power and putting initiatives on the ballot (as voters in BC did with their HST Referendum). The California Ballot Initiative requires 800,000 in-person, physical signatures. It cannot be done online and the deadline to gather the signatures is April 22, 2012.

Genetically modified organisms, often called genetically engineered (GE) or “transgenics” are derived from a process where genes of one species are inserted into another species.

“These genetically engineered foods have been allowed into our food supply without warning and they aren’t labelled,” says Pamm Larry, founder of the “It’s our Right to Know” campaign. “The bottom line is Californians have a right to know what’s in the food we eat and feed our children. It’s time to send a strong, direct message to those who govern us…that we want genetically engineered foods labelled.”

It's our right to know by Joseph Roberts On the US federal level, the campaign “Just Label It!” (www.justlabelit.org) has tremendous popular bi-partisan support. More than 500 partner organizations representing healthcare, consumer advocates, farmers, parents, environmentalists, food and farming organizations, businesses and faith-based communities have united on this issue.

So why is common sense GMO labelling not already in place? Because the biotech industry lobbies politicians for laws favourable to their industry. Corporations such as Monsanto are huge in the biotech industry. Biotech companies have been so effective in lobbying senators, governors, congressmen, regulators, medical panels and research organizations that they have basically rendered the government impotent in protecting citizens. Yet the biotech PR machines are performing far better than the actual crops. Failure to Yield, a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) notes that, despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase US crop yields.

Three GE crops account for the vast majority of acres of GMOs planted around the world: corn, soybeans and cotton. Five countries produce 90 percent of the world’s genetically engineered crops: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India and the US.

Even though 50 countries, including the European Union and Japan, have laws mandating that genetically engineered foods be labeled, sadly, Canada and the US do not. Remember, if it is GMO it is not organic and certainly not natural. Biotech corporations do not want to label GMOs because given a choice, informed people would not buy transgenic foods.

Locally, in Richmond, BC, Nature’s Path has championed consumer education and promoted GMO labeling for many years. “If California gets GMO labeling, so will the rest of the USA, and Canada will follow,” says founder Arran Stephens.

Although we live in Canada and cannot directly sign the petitions for these important initiatives in the US, we can help them succeed by calling or emailing people who do live there and by sending donations.

Make no mistake; if US citizens claim their right to know when GMOs are in their foods, Canada’s government will not stand for long refusing to label.

You too have the right to know what you are feeding your family. Act now, spread the word and visit the websites cited in this article. Support those frontline campaigners who are passionately working for our right to know.

Like abolishing slavery, GMO labelling is just the right thing to do.

For more information about the anti-GMO movement in Canada, visit www.cban.ca (Canadian Biotechnology Action Network), www.cog.ca (Canadian Organic Growers) and www.certifiedorganic.bc.ca (Certified Organic Associations of BC).

Photo © Grant Cochrane


Seva Canada turns 30

Seva eye screening clinic at a school in the Gulmi District of Nepal.

Seva® Canada, an international eye care charity based in Vancouver, turns 30 this month. Since 1982, Seva Canada has restored sight and prevented blindness in the developing world. To date, Seva and its partners have given the power of sight to three million people in Tibet, Nepal, India, Guatemala, Egypt, Cambodia, Malawi, Madagascar and Tanzania. But what makes Seva different is its unique approach to international development; it empowers the people and communities where it works.

One of the few successful international development organizations, rather than provide relief, Seva supports development. When a crisis occurs in a low to middle income country, whether it is a famine or a natural disaster, many organizations rush to the area. No doubt, suffering is reduced, but the impact ends with the emergency. Seva, in contrast, is among the organizations that work in these countries before, during and after a crisis occurs. Success for Seva is when foreign intervention is not needed at all.

Other organizations coordinate medical missions, short-term stints by physicians or rotations abroad by students or residents. The physicians feel good about providing direct care to patients and improving their lives. The community continues to benefit as long as the foreign physicians are there. There is a short-term advantage to everyone with a medical mission – patients are treated, medical supplies are delivered and there is a sense of accomplishment. However, medical missions can also have negative ramifications as they do not provide an effective plan for the improvement of communities and can actually hamper long-term development and create a reliance on charities and aid resources. The missions can reduce the incentive for those communities to build their own healthcare structures and not rely on outside assistance. While medical missions make sense in emergency situations as they can provide immediate relief and also help in the education of healthcare professionals from the developed world, they can also have a negative impact.

Seva, however, focuses on development and achieving long-term change with the intent of improving the lives of people in communities, now and in the future. It involves much planning, coordination with local partners and ongoing research. With development, the goal is to build local capacity and sustainability and the work continues even after Seva is no longer involved.

Seva believes in creating local, sustainable programs that aim to reduce the dependence on outside assistance and that are culturally sensitive and available to everyone. Seva works with international partners including local organizations, community leaders and government to determine the needs of an area. Seva then lends support through planning and launching programs, training local doctors and community outreach personnel and providing technology and supplies – always with the end goal that the community will become financially self-sustaining.

Seva’s innovative sustainability model of enabling communities to care for their own through the transfer of knowledge and support means that when someone donates $1 to a program, its value is actually much greater. Imagine planting a seed. The seed grows into a tree that then seeds other trees and then a forest, all from the same $1 donation. That $1 helps provide eye care in the present and in the future; it keeps on working for the individual and the community.

Beyond the Darkness exhibit honours Seva’s work

Celebrate Seva Canada’s 30 years of restoring sight and preventing blindness in the developing world at Beyond the Darkness, a photo exhibition by the international, award winning photographer Larry Louie.

Exhibition: April 23-May 12, HSBC Pendulum Gallery, 885 West Georgia Street. Donor Reception: Thurs April 26, 6-8 pm. RSVP to admin@seva.ca. For more info about Seva, visit seva.ca or call Deanne Berman, 604-713-6622, communications@seva.ca

Photo © Ellen Crystal, www.merit2.com

Osteoporosis: healing mechanism or disease?

A still life with vegetables and dumbells

by Allan Lawry


• To understand how osteoporisis is a healing mechanism and not a disease, a brief history of the term “osteoporosis” is necessary. In 1830, French pathologist Jean Lobstein observed there were holes in the bones of some of the cadavers he was studying. And around that time, various researchers began to combine two Latin words to describe this condition: “osteo” meaning bone and “poros” meaning pore or hole. Together, the two words literally mean “porous bones,” describing weak and fragile bone that could fracture. You basically had to break a bone before you were diagnosed with the “disease”.

This changed in 1994 when the World Health Organization (WHO), under the direction of the UN, changed the description of osteoporosis from a disease of fractures to a disease of fracture “risks.” The organization also published its guidelines for what comprised a risk fracture, based on T scores derived from DEXA X-ray scanners. These scanners began to show up in greater numbers in medical clinics all over North America and due to their abnormally low levels for determining risks, almost overnight, 30% of all Caucasian females had a “risk factor.”

The WHO subsequently recommended bisphosphonates (drugs) as the first line of treatment for the disease; Fosamax was approved by the FDA and sales began to skyrocket. Last year, sales reached $3 billion dollars. These drugs not only have many well-documented adverse effects, but there is growing evidence they may actually cause bone to weaken after long-term (more than five years) use. This might be due to the drug’s hardening of the bone, where it becomes more brittle and prone to breaking. There are warnings from the US FDA noting the bisphosphonates may cause other fractures, like those of the femur. (See http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm229171.htm)

The medical business, Big Pharma and the FDA have created a “disease” from a symptom. They endorse faulty diagnostics, promote a harmful cure and sell it to anyone who is taken in by their deceptions. They have created a nightmare for those caught in the web of deceit, drugs and false hope for healthier bones.

Basic bone information: Bones are living, active tissues that renew themselves via a process called remodelling. Hormonal cells called osteoclasts remove old bone from bone tissue, deposit it into the bloodstream for removal and create small holes in the process. Cells called osteoblasts then arrive with a “mortar” of calcium, minerals and collagen to fill in the holes. This is an ongoing process that peaks when we are in our twenties. It begins to slow down in our forties and can accelerate naturally as we age.

Osteoclasts and osteoblasts are activated by the parathyroid hormone (PTH), which signals osteoclasts to pull calcium from the bones. Calcitonin is the hormone that stimulates osteoblasts to deposit calcium into the bones. Osteoblasts must be able to do their job effectively. Osteoblasts that are exhausted are one of the primary reasons for bone loss. Problems begin when the delicate balance between PTH and calcitonin is disrupted.

Bone loss can occur when the process of remodelling becomes dysfunctional. It affects one in four women over the age of 45 and one in eight men over 50. Here are some of the main reasons why we lose bone and some natural solutions to these problems:

Lack of magnesium: Calcitonin relies on magnesium to function properly. When we lack it, the balance between calcitonin tilts too far toward PTH. This results in excessive stimulation of the osteoclasts, causing calcium to be pulled from the bones. Most people are low in magnesium. The recommended intake is 500-900mg/day.

Excessive acidity (acidosis): If your diet contains too many acid foods such as meat, grains, bread, pasta, soft drinks, alcohol and coffee and not enough alkalizing foods such as green vegetables and fruits, your body starts to become acidic. As the blood needs to be slightly alkaline (approximately 7.3-7.4 PH), your body will pull calcium from the bones to neutralize the acid.

This is one of the main reasons for “bone remodelling dysfunction” or BRD. BRD is the term I prefer to use to describe “porous bone.” To keep your body in a more alkaline state, a diet that consists of 70-80% alkaline foods and 20-30% acid foods is recommended. You can check your PH levels with pH strips purchased at health food stores; you can monitor saliva or urine. It is recommended that your pH be approximately 6.5 in the morning, 7.0 in the afternoon and 7.5 in the evening. This shows you have alkaline reserves for the body’s needs. We have seen bone density increase by over 20% with this strategy alone.

Low hormone levels: Bone requires an adequate supply of several hormones, such as parathyroid hormone, growth hormone, DHEA, calcitonin, estrogen in women and testosterone in men. As an example, cortisol is a stress hormone, produced when there is stress. It will pull calcium from the bones if there is not enough DHEA to counter balance its effect. The parathyroid regulates calcium in the body and if it becomes stressed will pull calcium from the bones. We have recorded a 10-pound bone loss due to the condition, which is known as hyperparathyroidism. Estrogen loss for females during menopause is another major factor, as estrogen protects the loss of calcium in the body.

Women should begin to check their hormone levels starting in their early forties. For men, begin to check in the early fifties. This will give you a baseline for future reference and from which to monitor changes. Contact your primary care physician to coordinate these vital tests.

Low intake of the essential nutrients and bone builders: Attempt to have a diet that contains 20-30% protein, 30-40% plant-based carbohydrates, 15-20% good fats and 10-15% fibre. Enjoy your food and give yourself lots of good nutrition and energy.

Strong bones require the following: Bio-available calcium three times per day (800-1,000 mg/day); Natural sources of vitamin D (sunshine) (800-2,000 iu/day); Phosphorous (800-1,200mg/day; Potassium, (4,000-6,000mg/day). In addition, manganese, silicon, zinc, strontium and vitamin K are also important.

The bone robbers: Avoid smoking and an excess of coffee, alcohol, stress, calcium from dairy sources (increases acidosis), salt, sugar, soft drinks and fluoride. Also avoid prescription drugs, even those endorsed by Health Canada for “osteoporosis.” Some drugs actually contribute to fractures by killing the osteoclasts. This creates old, brittle bone that is prone to fracture. Femoral fractures are on the rise worldwide due to this misguided treatment. (For more information, search Google for “Fosamax lawsuits.”)

Not enough exercise: Exercise stimulates the osteoblasts to produce more bone. Just walking more will help and if you can do weight-bearing exercises, such as light weight training, you will help the bones greatly. Attempt to work out three times a week and vary your routine to avoid repetition, injury and boredom. Try to get outside and give yourself lots of fresh air and oxygen. You will feel better and more positive. You were meant to be active and to give your body the gift of lifelong activity. The main reason for BRD is due to the owner of those bones not providing the right ingredients for growth and maintenance of the overall body. If you do not provide your body with health enhancing nutrition, supplements, fresh air, exercise, sunshine and positive thoughts, your bone mineral supply may become depleted.

BRD is a short-term dysfunction that is actually a built-in healing and balancing system of the body. It gives priority to places or systems of the body that require minerals immediately. It “sacrifices” its minerals to these areas and then waits for its owner to replenish the storehouses. If the owner (you and I) does not provide the bones with what they need, the dysfunction continues and bones become weaker, less dense and more porous. Bones are the storehouses for energy for short-term repairs and balancing. They were not meant to provide long-term energy for the body. You, as its owner, must keep mineralization high in the bones to prevent the long-term results that we now define as BRD.

For many years, the definition and promotion of BRD was based on the following concept: Osteoporosis is a disease that causes weak and fragile bones that are prone to breaking. Other research has prompted a new definition: Bones lose density and become weak or fragile due to bone remodelling dysfunction (BRD), a short-term healing mechanism. This is caused by a variety of metabolic processes that contribute either individually or collectively to the decline of bone integrity.

BRD can be reversible, but it requires knowledge, a healthy diet and exercise plan, hormonal balancing and stress reduction. Above all, however, it requires a dedicated owner to take responsibility for the health of their bones. The earlier you start the better, so take care of your bones.

Vancouver-based Allan Lawry is the creator of the “Healthy Bones Program,” which provides an all-natural alternative for people with bone health concerns. He is also a lifestyle and fitness coach. Call 604-220-7188 or email info@alfitness.ca, www.alfitness.ca


Focus research on safety

DRUG BUST by Alan Cassels

The people’s briefing note on prescription drugs

Portrait of columnist Alan Cassels• Why is more money going towards drug discovery research than drug safety research? Because that’s what the government of Canada is paying for.

Today’s fortune-tellers, horoscope writers and other modern soothsayers are very compelling figures. They are magnets for attention even though their predictions should be thought of as entertainment and not enlightenment. Yet some predictions do turn out to be right. Julius Caesar was murdered by a conspiring group of senators in Rome, but at least he was warned by his wife and a soothsayer who said the Ides of March – the 15th of the month – could be a very bad day indeed.

This year on the Ides of March, Canada’s federal government chose to announce, with much fanfare, an investment of $150 million over the next five years for pharmaceutical research. The funding seems to be aimed primarily at drug researchers connected to drug companies – because you need matching funds to play in that pool – and at a mere $30 million per year over five years, this doesn’t seem like that much. If, however, we step back from that announcement and gaze into a crystal ball, we can judge with some degree of certainty where the government’s priorities may be taking us. In an era of restraint and worries about the fiscal health of the country, and with the Conservative’s Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq plunking down a big wad of cash to help strengthen “Canada’s position as a preferred location to conduct clinical research,” you tend to pay attention. If you like the idea of Canadians doing clinical research and welcome Canadian patients being the research subjects, you’d welcome such an announcement.

If you have a debilitating disease like MS or Parkinson’s, you might be glad that Canada’s government is prioritizing pharmaceutical research and putting money towards researching products to help our citizens stay healthy. The announcement also noted the new investment will “accelerate the development of new clinical practices and health products, which will have a direct impact on treatment and services provided to patients.”

I know many hardworking researchers who would salivate over even a small portion of the new $150 million, especially the relatively poor lot struggling away doing health services research, investigating drug safety questions or testing different ways to make physicians better aware of adverse drug warnings. But clearly this new funding is not about using the drugs we have more thoughtfully; it’s about developing even more of them. I look into the crystal ball and wonder why it seems important to have drug research done in Canada. Does it matter if a new drug, a new computer program or a new car is designed, tested and built in Mumbai, Melbourne or Montreal? Arguments could be made either way, but the stark reality of globalization is that the global mega-corporations who develop any product nowadays – whether it’s a mobile phone or an osteoporosis drug – are ruled by the laws of the marketplace and will get things done where it is cheapest.

So why would pharmaceutical companies want to develop and test their drugs in Canada if they could do so in Africa, India or China at a fraction of the price? That’s a complex question, but we do know that federal tax incentives and research funding to sweeten the pot will, at least, buy some temporary loyalty. Developing drugs is all about determining effectiveness, learning if a new chemical entity will work in certain diseases and result in improved health outcomes. We absolutely need that kind of research and the drug industry and the Canadian government, including our Health Minister, would argue we need to fund the people and the infrastructure to keep high tech medical research in Canada. All part of the “knowledge economy” they’ll say. Others would argue where a product is developed and tested is irrelevant because the global companies doing the developing will want to sell them wherever they find paying customers. This leads me to conclude that, by necessity, we need more of the kind of research that can only be done here – applied research – which is about taking effective treatments and practices and maximizing their efficient use in a Canadian health system.

Archie Cochrane, a British researcher whose name now brands the internationally esteemed Cochrane Collaboration, one of the best sources of systematic health evidence in the world, wrote a book called Effectiveness and Efficiency: Random Reflections on Health Services. Over 40 years ago, he stressed that governments must actively determine a nation’s research priorities and that “pure” research” can be done and is, in fact, done all over the world.” He said that to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of a health service, governments needed to make considerable investments in applied research.

Applied research asks “real world” questions such as: does health service X or drug Y or diagnostic test Z produce health outcomes in our population that are worth the money we invest in them? And if not, what does produce those desired health outcomes?

One example of applied research could lead to safer and more effective use of pharmaceuticals. We have a Canadian research network called DSEN – the Drug Safety and Effectiveness Network – which was set up a few years ago and funded with $30 million over five years to study the real world safety and effectiveness of drugs. Research to discover rare side effects or adverse effects of drugs already on the market is intensive work that is relatively low-cost, but with potentially high impact. While the DSEN group is studying some vital questions, including the safety of statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) and antipsychotics (drugs for schizophrenia, but also widely used in the elderly), will it be enough to make much of a dent in the way drugs are used in this country? The crystal ball says no.

Undoubtedly, there are many important drug safety issues that affect millions of Canadians that may never get studied because of insufficient funds and these important research questions might include:

1. Are cholesterol-lowering drugs safe or effective in women and the elderly? (All the data accumulated so far says it’s probably neither.) 2. Should teenagers be prescribed antidepressants, given the known harms of suicide risk? 3. Should pregnant women consume certain prescription drugs when we don’t know their overall risk to the fetus? 4. Should antibiotics be limited to only the most serious, verifiable bacterial infections, which would help stop the deadly onward march of antibiotic resistance? 5. Should the elderly have their blood pressure lowered so vigorously with drugs and could this be contributing to an epidemic of hypotension (low blood pressure) that leads to falls and broken hips? It’s clear the Ides of March announcement of a new $150 million won’t answer important questions like these. The drug companies don’t want to ask questions that might lead to the population taking less of their products.

Will further research in pharmaceutical development make a difference in the lives of Canadians? It might, but that crystal ball is murky. Would it be better to put more money into drug safety and ways to get patients off dangerous drugs to keep people healthier? I can’t read the future, but that’s where I’d invest my money.

A final point: everyone who swallows pills has a golden opportunity to make the world a better place. Have you had an adverse reaction to a drug? Then why not share that experience with others by asking your doctor or pharmacist to file a report with MedEffect Canada, our federal adverse drug reaction reporting system? (Just Google MedEffect Canada.) You could also call the Canada Vigilance hotline at 1-866-234-2345 (toll-free) and file a report with a new website launched in Canada at www.rxrisk.org.

Alan Cassels is a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria and author of the forthcoming book Seeking Sickness: Medical Screening and the Misguided Hunt for Disease, due out April 2012. Read more of what he’s writing about at www.alancassels.com

Who’s eating who in organic food?

A chart showing the ownership of companies in the organics industry

by Phil Howard, Michigan State University


• I started studying consolidation in food industries when I was a graduate student at the University of Missouri. When I moved to California where this trend was rapidly occurring – despite the fact that many of the pioneering companies set out to be alternatives to the mainstream food system – people asked me to look into organic brands. In 2003, I put together a chart to visualize buyouts made by the largest food processors, many of which are hidden. Due to widespread interest, I’ve updated it every few years. Interestingly, some companies cited on this chart have told me that they loved it. They showed it to big retailers like Walmart, Costco and Target to convince them that organic was becoming mainstream. – Phil Howard

The organic industry has seen significant consolidation since the late 1990s. Many pioneering organic firms have been acquired by some of the largest food and beverage corporations in the world, such as Nestlé, Kraft and General Mills. But not all organic brands have fallen victim to this trend; at least 18 nationally distributed organic brands have resisted consolidation by remaining independent. The question is how have they managed to remain independent?

It is not for lack of offers. Arran Stephens, CEO of Nature’s Path, notes that, during the peak period of acquisitions, he received two bids on the same day and he continues to receive large, unsolicited offers on a frequent basis. Many other independent firms report similar patterns, with offers that are much higher than typical for the food industry. Refusing such offers means not only giving up millions of dollars, but also facing the near certainty of increasing competition from some of the world’s largest food companies.

These corporations can better afford to influence consumer demand for their products with expensive advertising. They can also subsidize price cutting on organic foods with sales from other products, in order to drive their competitors out of business. Remaining independent is therefore not what an economist would call a rational decision, but what these firms have in common is a strong commitment to values beyond just profit. In many cases, this is due to the principles and ideals of the founder, while in other firms, organizational structures are in place that discourage transfer of ownership.

Four of the remaining independent companies, for example, are organized as cooperatives: Equal Exchange and Alvarado Street Bakery are employee cooperatives, Organic Valley is a producer cooperative and Frontier Natural Products is a wholesaler cooperative. Equal Exchange goes a step further by trading directly with democratically organized, small farmer cooperatives – primarily in other countries, but also in the US –and should the company ever be sold, net proceeds are required to be given to another fair trade organization, not the worker-owners themselves.

The founders of organic food companies have learned firsthand or from others’ experiences the negative consequences acquisitions have on their more idealistic goals. Stephens, who once sold a natural food company called Lifestream – and later bought it back from Kraft – has said he has seen the “soul gutted out” of acquired companies, in most cases within three years. Mo Siegel, formerly of Celestial Seasonings and Greg Steltenpohl, formerly of Odwalla, both have regrets about losing financial control of their companies and the resulting emphasis on profit. Steltenpohl has said, “[Corporations] have an agenda to consolidate and concentrate power and wealth. That’s what their function is… The system itself forces certain outcomes and I really underestimated that.” This recognition is in stark contrast to the optimistic language founders often use when announcing buyouts, with many using some variation of the phrase “We’re not selling out, they’re buying in.”

Competing against an increasing number of such profit focused firms may lead independents to converge toward the rest of the industry in some areas, even as they remain more idealistic in others. Some independent firms sell to Wal-Mart, while others export their products all over the world, which may strike some organic farmers and consumers as contrary to the ideals of sustainability. Another example is introducing products that conflict with the organic movement’s original emphasis on less packaging and processing of foods. Amy’s Kitchen, for example, has introduced frozen, microwaveable oatmeal and while a certified organic Twinkie has yet to arrive, Nature’s Path has introduced organic toaster pastries.

Refusing to converge toward the mainstream is risky when, as Cascadian Farm founder Gene Kahn, who sold his firm to General Mills, explains, “The intense amount of consolidation… has sorted out of a lot of the smaller players. This has occurred on a variety of fronts, including farming, manufacturing, distribution and retail.”

Such changes in the organic distribution and retail sectors create some of the most significant challenges to independence. The entrance of mainstream supermarkets into organic food retailing, for example, has brought with it the practice of charging fees to manufacturers in exchange for shelf space. Dean Foods was able to subsidize such slotting fees for Silk soymilk to place it in the conventional dairy case, which contributed to its dominance in the supermarket channel. Smaller companies often cannot afford the tens of thousands of dollars per product for each retail chain that is required to implement this strategy.

While the more targeted natural/organic retail sector does not typically charge these fees, it is even more consolidated than conventional retailing, with Whole Foods dominating this category. Distribution of processed organic foods also occurs primarily through just two firms, United Natural Foods Inc. and KeHe. The smallest processors can bypass these giants if they sell directly to a nearby food cooperative, which totals approximately five percent of all organic food sales in North America. The shipping costs of expanding direct sales beyond local stores may be prohibitive, however. For larger, independent processors, unless they have already established strong brand identities and relationships with national distributors – or large retailers with their own distribution systems – getting products onto store shelves is quite difficult. As a result, some of the founders of these firms have stated that, if they were starting out today, they wouldn’t be able to make it.

Consumers who want food companies that embody more of the original organic ideals would do well to seek out products from independent organic firms. Although we may not agree with all of their practices, they tend to emphasize more non-economic values, such as a commitment to sustainability and are more responsive to consumer demands than the massive food corporations of the world. Given the very uneven playing field they are competing in, independent organic processors are unlikely to survive without such support.

Philip H. Howard, PhD, is an assistant professor at the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies at Michigan State University. www.msu.edu/~howardp/

Mantra music

An image of the white-bearded guru holding a cutaway guitar, laughing

by Alan di Perna


When yoga arrived in the West, it brought its own jubilant soundtrack along for the ride. The practice of chanting sacred mantras from India’s ancient yogic traditions has taken on new life, thanks to the work of adventurous, modern musicians like Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Wah, Snatam Kaur, MC Yogi, Deva Premal, Donna DeLory and others, including guitarist GuruGanesha Singh.

The styles and sounds of modern mantra music are varied, but most have their root in kirtan – call and response chanting. It’s essentially a form of musical meditation. The kirtan wallah, or leader, sings a mantra – a sacred name or phrase – and the crowd sings it back. This process is repeated over and over until everyone is completely blissed-out. The repetition induces a meditative state and the music engages the emotions. It’s a great practice for those who find more passive forms of sitting meditation tedious. Getting up and dancing is encouraged at a kirtan.

The chanting of mantras was already an ancient practice when Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (born 1486) popularized the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra in the Indian city of Navadvipa. This particular mantra was revived by the Krishna Consciousness movement that took off in the late 60s and even became a pop hit in 1969, in a version recorded by George Harrison and the Radha Krishna Temple group.

Many of the key artists who established the current mantra music scene are baby boomers who were among the disaffected youth that turned to India in search of enlightenment in the early 70s. Certain gurus seemed to nurture musical as well as spiritual development. Krishna Das, Jai Uttal and Bhagavan Das are all disciples of the Hindu master Neem Karoli Baba, who fostered the practice of kirtan as a form of bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. Closer to home, future kirtan luminaries like GuruGanesha Singh and Sat Kartar Kaur were direct disciples of the teacher, Yogi Bhajan, who emigrated from India to North America in 1968. He went on to establish Kundalini yoga and launch the Yogi Tea empire. Yogi Bhajan also encouraged musical pursuits among his students. A bhajan is itself a traditional devotional song form.

While Hindu-based kirtan artists like Krishna Das and Jai Uttal sing Sanskrit mantras, the Sikh mantras performed by artists like Snatam Kaur, Nirinjan Kaur and GuruGanesha are sung in Gurmukhi. An encounter with the core Gurmukhi mantra Wahe Guru, Guru Ram Das at a Boston yoga class in 1972 started GuruGanesha on the spiritual path. Adopting the Sikh faith, he sang in ashrams for decades, but went into high gear at the dawn of the new century, launching Spirit Voyage records and the career of Snatam Kaur, acting as her manager, guitarist and songwriting partner.

His latest project, the GuruGanesha Band, is an eclectic ensemble blending the diverse sounds of electric and acoustic guitars, sarangi, cello, sitar, tabla and vocals among other enticing sonic flavours. As with many of today’s mantra artists, all the marvels of modern musical expression are marshalled to unlock the blissful healing power inherent in these ancient languages of love and devotion.

Veteran music journalist Alan di Perna has written for Yoga Journal, Rolling Stone, Guitar World and grammy.com among many other outlets.

April 8 & 9
GuruGanesha Singh and his band perform at St. James Community Square in Vancouver along with guest artist Vancouver’s own Nirinjan Kaur. Tickets/info: www.guruganesha.com. Tickets: Yoga West 604-732-9642, Bound Lotus Yoga, North Vancouver 604-762-2798 and Banyen Books 604-732-7912

Ten nutrients consumers can buy over-the-counter again

Vitamin pills in a leaf


by Dr. Eldon Dahl, ND

• Ever wondered if you could bottle that sleepy feeling you get after eating a big turkey dinner, for future use on one of those long, restless nights? Well, last December, the Canadian health food industry was overjoyed when L-tryptophan, along with nine other products, was released from *Schedule F restriction. Until then, all these ingredients were only available to Canadians via expensive prescriptions. According to clinical studies in the Natural Standard clinical database, these nutrients have been clinically reviewed and used with life-changing improvements. Despite their proven effectiveness, however, Canadians are only now able to obtain these products legally without a prescription.

Last year, Health Canada, with the help of its Drug Schedule Status Committee, undertook a review of the science assessment for these 10 naturally sourced medicinal ingredients and decided that none of the reasons for restricting them in Schedule F were found to apply. The committee recommended these medicinal ingredients could be regulated as non-prescription status under the Natural Health Products Regulations.

So why has tryptophan been so controversial? It is best known as a natural relaxant. It helps improve sleep patterns and aids the body in the metabolization of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The controversy surrounding L-tryptophan is best explained in the book The Healing Nutrients Within by Dr. Eric R. Braverman, M.D. In 1989, a fatal outbreak of the rare autoimmune disease Eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS) cropped up. The disease causes fever, numbness and rashes. It also affects the muscles, arms and legs. In severe cases, EMS can cause death.

According to an article by William E. Crist entitled **Toxic L-tryptophan: Shedding Light on a Mysterious Epidemic, the outbreak was traced back to the Japanese engineering firm Showa Denko. Instead of fermenting its tryptophan normally, it introduced a new strain of bacteria into the fermentation and decreased the amount of activated carbon powder used in the purification process. These seemingly small manufacturing decisions, which were probably meant to be beneficial, instead proved to be catastrophic. Previously, tryptophan users had never reported any EMS-related symptoms. However, those who were unfortunate enough to receive the “bad batch” from 1989 reported major health issues. Several of those who developed EMS from the contaminated tryptophan sued the Japanese manufacturer. Although a settlement of $2 billion was eventually reached, this uproar resulted in a FDA mandate banning the sale of tryptophan in the US. Before discovering all the manufacturing facts, some of the media published the “health risks” of taking tryptophan, fuelling the fires of panic.

In time, however, the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition studied amino acid supplementation and concluded it was safe after all. And in 1996, L-tryptophan could be obtained in the US via prescription. Canada similarly followed suit with prescription use only. Health Canada finally released L-tryptophan from Schedule F in December of 2011. As Dr. Braverman and his colleagues state, “In our opinion, if there is any risk at all to amino acid therapy, it is taking imbalanced amino acids that do not contain tryptophan.”

L-Tryptophan has earned non-prescription status when sold as an oral dosage of no more than 220 mg daily. (It has prescription status when sold for human or veterinary use as a single ingredient intended for any route of administration other than oral.)

Another highly anticipated nutrient, L-carnitine (Levocarnitine), is now available to Canadians when sold for the treatment of its primary or secondary deficiency. An amino acid found in meat, this product helps reduce oxidized LDL-cholesterol levels in men and women, as well as circulating LDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels for both genders. It also enhances exercise performance by facilitating glycogen storage during low-intensity aerobic exercise, as well as by balancing fuel utilization during high-intensity aerobic exercise. Basically stated, L-carnitine is good for many things, including mental clarity, energy, heart health and weight control.

The remaining list of released Schedule F products includes:

Apiol oil: Found in celery, parsley seed oil, dill, fennel seed, sassafras root bark, etc., it has been used in the treatment of liver, spleen and prostate diseases, as well as arthritis, anaemia and microbial infections. It has also been found useful as a laxative and diuretic.

Centella asiatica: Also known as gotu kola, this is a mild adaptogenic herb that is anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-bacterial and diuretic. It can also aid in the treatment of anxiety and hypertension. Its ability to help heal wounds is responsible for its traditional use for leprosy.

Deanol and its salts and derivatives (also known as DMAE, precursor to choline) has been used for treating ADHD, autism, Alzheimer’s disease and tardive dyskinesia. It is also used for improving memory and mood, boosting thinking skills and intelligence, oxygen efficiency, athletic performance and muscle reflexes as well as for liver spots and improving red blood cell function.

Dimethyl sulfoxide (also known as DMSO) has non-prescription status, unless sold for the treatment of interstitial cystitis or scleroderma in humans or for veterinary use. DMSO is predominantly used as a topical analgesic, a vehicle for topical application of pharmaceuticals, as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. Because DMSO increases the rate of absorption of some compounds through organic tissues, including skin, it can be used as a drug delivery system. It is frequently compounded with antifungal medications, enabling them to penetrate not just skin, but also toenails and fingernails.

Dopamine (and its salts) is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. It also regulates movement and emotional responses. People with low dopamine activity may be more prone to addiction. Dopamine deficiency results in Parkinson’s disease. It now has non-prescription status unless sold for administration by injection.

Gold (and its salts and derivatives) now has non-prescription status unless sold for administration by injection. Gold can ease the pain of arthritis and inflammatory joint diseases.

Theobromine and its salts (found in chocolate, kola nuts, coffee and tea) is a stimulant similar to caffeine that helps open bronchial passageways for asthma and dilates blood vessels to aid circulatory problems.

Uracil and its salts has non-prescription status, unless sold for the treatment of cancer. It helps to carry out the synthesis of many enzymes necessary for cell function through bonding with riboses and phosphates.

In the US, these products have been sold over-the-counter and are protected by the Congress-defined term “dietary supplement,” as coined in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994. A dietary supplement is a product taken by mouth that contains a “dietary ingredient” intended to supplement the diet. Such supplements fall under the general umbrella of “foods,” not drugs.

Since these products have been sold in the US, they have not had any related safety concerns. In fact, they have attributed to better health and noticeable improvements for athletes. Yet until last December, free access to these supplements and their benefits was not available to Canadians because Health Canada had not yet fully reviewed and assessed them for safety, efficacy and quality, as required by the Food and Drugs Act and the Food and Drug Regulations.

Many in the health industry are elated to see these products legally available for sale; it is like a dream come true. The products work, but consumers have not had the opportunity to see the results for themselves. Canadians can now enjoy the same benefits that our US counterparts have enjoyed for decades: the freedom of choice. Canadians can use natural alternatives that provide great results without harmful pharmaceutical side effects and finally, as a bonus, no prescription is required. Another benefit to those seeking better health through prevention is that supplementation with a product such as L-carnitine may help avoid heart disease all together, saving millions in potential surgeries and prescription medication. To be frank, lives can ultimately be saved because of this Schedule F decision.

This milestone for the health industry should be celebrated, although, in retrospect, it is unfortunate it took so many years to recognize the healing potential of these products. Realistically, we still have a long way to go. There are more products that could benefit Canadians that are currently inaccessible under current regulations. Still, organizations such as the Canadian Health Food Association, the Natural Health Protection Association and Health Action Network are seeking to bridge the gap between the natural health industry and Health Canada. Steps such as this provide encouragement as better education brings enlightenment.

Proactively, in the spirit of cooperation, the natural health industry, the provinces and Health Canada can work together for the optimal health of all Canadians. Learn more about the organizations mentioned: CHFA www.chfa.ca/en-us/home.aspx NHPA http://nhppa.org HAN www.healthactionnetwork.com/

*Schedule F refers to Sections C.01.041 to C.01.049 of the Food and Drug Regulations, controlling the sale of medicinal ingredients. These ingredients require a prescription for both human and veterinary use, unless the veterinary use it is labelled for is in a form unsuitable for human use. In 2004, the Natural Health Products Regulations came into force and all naturally sourced ingredients of a natural health product became governed by these regulations.

**Toxic L-tryptophan: Shedding Light on a Mysterious Epidemic: www.seedsofdeception.com/Public/L-tryptophan/2BackgroundInformation/index.cfm

Dr. Eldon Dahl, ND, is the founder and director of the Life Choice™ nutraceutical product line. Its L-Typtophan product has earned an EN# from Health Canada (www.life-choice.net)

photo © Alita Bobrov