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Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with "The End of Nature" in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. The group he founded, 350.org, has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009. The Boston Globe said in 2010 that he was "probably the country’s most important environmentalist."
Alexis Tsipras, a member of the Hellenic parliament, president of the Synaspismos political party since 2008, head of the SYRIZA parliamentary group since 2009, and leader of the Opposition since June 2012. SYRIZA currently leads in Greek opinion polls. Listen to the audio here.
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"Rand Paul: Making a Point," by Reginald Johnson, March 8, 2013
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Posted Sept. 12, 2012
Interview with Bill Duesing, president, Connecticut chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
A Sept. 4 headline in the New York Times read "Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce." The study cited was a meta-analysis of 40 years of research on organic and conventionally produced produce, that is, produce sprayed with pesticides. The study concluded that organic food was no more nutritious than non-organic. The research didn’t focus on questions of sustainability or even of flavor, though many people who responded to the article stated these issues were paramount in their decision to pay a premium price to buy organic food.
While the Stanford study, conducted by the University’s Center for Health Policy concluded that organic fruits and vegetables on average had no more nutritional value than their conventionally grown counterparts, the research found that organic produce retained fewer traces of pesticides and meat was less contaminated by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Bill Duesing, president of the Connecticut chapter of NOFA, the Northeast Organic Farming Association. He's also president of the NOFA Interstate Council, representing all New England states – Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as New York and New Jersey. He discusses the reasons people farm organically and shop for organic food, as well as the forces opposing an upcoming California referendum that would mandate the labeling of genetically modified foods.
BILL DUESING: Nutrition isn't the main reason that most people eat organic food; it's not the main reason farmers want to grow organic food. There are a whole lot of other reasons. But it did find clearly that there are fewer pesticides and also fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria in organic foods. So there were two very good things and one thing that wasn't a whole lot different. Organic is a holistic practice and we do it because of the way we care for the earth; it's working with nature instead of fighting nature. I don't think there was any reasonable conclusion but obviously some people took it and ran with it. The industrial food system is very worried about all the interest in local, organic and sustainable because the industrial food system is not that. It's not organic, it's very dangerous for the planet, and it's certainly unsustainable. But there is this incredible effort on their part, through things like the Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, through the work of the Farm Bureau, through the work of the people who are fighting the labeling of GMOs in California. If you look at that list, you see who's on the other side of that food right – Monsanto and Dupont and Coca-Cola and General Mills and PepsiCo. You know, there's an industrial food system and an ecological food system, and the industrial food system wants to work against nature and as much as possible pooh-pooh any interest in local or organic, and they keep trumping up these studies and then giving them lots of publicity to try to discourage people from thinking about the food in a way that's healthier for them and healthier for our planet.
BETWEEN THE LINES: The meta-analysis also didn't evaluate any taste differences between organic and conventionally grown food, which must be hard to test for, but a lot of people who commented on the study have indicated they prefer the taste of organic foods.
BILL DUESING: They eat organic because they don't want to eat pesticides, which was shown on this study to be the case, and they eat organic because it tastes good, because maybe it makes them feel good about their relationship with the farmer and the farmworkers who aren't being doused with chemicals in order to produce what's nutritious for us.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Several state legislatures have tried unsuccessfully to require labeling of foods containing GMOs. Now California has put the issue on the ballot this November. What does it call for exactly?
BILL DUESING: As I understand it, it would require foods that contain ingredients that have been produced by genetic engineering to be labeled. And I think, unless it's been changed and I doubt that it has, it doesn't say anything about meat – animals and what they eat. Most animals in this country eat genetically modified grain. The jury's still out, I think, about whether that's beneficial to the animals or whether that has any effect on us.
BETWEEN THE LINES: So, to be certified organic, food can't contain any GMOs, right?
BILL DUESING: Yes, yes. Organic – now that's the one way you can avoid genetically modified organisms, is by buying organic food.
BETWEEN THE LINES: I read a book recently by Stewart Brand, who produced the Whole Earth Catalogue. It's called Whole Earth Discipline, and he sort of takes on nuclear power and GMOs and a lot of things that were sort of gospel on the left, where he used to be, and does his best to debunk them all. And I thought the piece on GMOs was the strongest case he made, that there's a lot of advantages to genetically modified crops, you know, higher production, weed control. How bad to you think GMOs are?
BILL DUESING: Oh, I think they're awful. I'm not saying that they never could have a place in our food system, but as they are now they're designed to do one of two things. One is to resist massive dosage of RoundUp to control the weeds, and that system isn't working. Nature doesn't stand still; if you spray weeds with the same herbicide year after year after year, the weeds become resistant or the resistant weeds begin to thrive. And so, that's what's happened. There's a lot of problems with super-weeds where they've used these RoundUp-ready crops. It's been said that RoundUp is a relatively benign herbicide and it's better to use it once – which is what they thought might happen – than to use these other, more toxic herbicides. What's happening, the RoundUp's not working now, so they're developing corn and probably soy beans that are resistant to more toxic herbicides, including 2-4-D, which was part of Agent Orange. In terms of what it does to the soil, the way it ties up minerals, it has encouraged various exotic viruses and diseases to come into the corn crop, because of the way it doesn't make the minerals available; it changes the soil ecosystem. So we need to learn to work with nature, and nature works by creating biodiversity, storing organic matter.
BETWEEN THE LINES: I learned recently that one of the advantages of Roundup made it so you didn't have to plow the ground, which made it a lot easier to keep the soil in place. I know you think that no-till farming is really important, so ...
BILL DUESING: There are ways to do it organically. The Rodale farm, they have a five-year rotation which involves only one tillage operation and one application of compost in all of five years. And their results show their organic methods produce higher yields, about three times the profit, fewer greenhouse gases and use less energy.