December 31, 2012

On Rising

by Eric Rosenbloom, copyright 2012

No man shall lend an eye
Ere dairy maid knead dough
And dug at morn is sucked
For tits to fingers tell
Where air bore scents of bread
Of love and masters dread

“Money supersedes or warps values in the US”

“Citizens of the wealthiest country in history cluck and squabble at the prospect of jobs like chickens come feed time, hat in hand, servile as serfs, mumbling specious self-reassuring nonsense as the changes happen like weather.”

“C.P.T.L.”, comment, “Vermont resort pulls in big foreign investments”, New York Times, Dec. 31, 2012

human rights, Vermont, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

December 29, 2012

Gun deaths in U.S. since Newtown

Data from
Tabulated at
Original page:

human rights


“Wau Holland, the founder of Chaos Computer Club, said something funny: "You know, filtering should be handled in the end user, and in the end device of the end user." ... In the end device of the end user, that's this thing you have between your ears. That's where you should filter and it shouldn't be done by the government on behalf of the people. If tyhe people don't want to see things, well, they don't have to, and you do have the requirement these days to filter a lot of things anyhow.”

—And Müller-Maguhn, Cypherpunks, by Assange, Appelbaum, Müller-Maguhn, and Zimmermann (2012, OR Books)

human rights, anarchism

Veganism & the Environment: By the Numbers

  • 1 calorie from animal protein requires 11 times as much fossil fuel as one calorie of plant protein.
  • The diets of meat eaters create 7× the greenhouse emissions as the diets of vegans.
Carbon Dioxide (CO₂)
  • If one person exchanges a "regular" car for a hybrid, they'll reduce CO₂ emissions by 1 ton per year.
  • If one person exchanges eating meat for a vegan diet, they'll reduce CO₂ emissions by 1.5 tons per year.
  • If every American dropped one serving of chicken per week from their diet, it would save the same amount of CO₂ emissions as taking 500,000 cars of the road.
Methane (CH₄)
  • Methane is 20× more powerful at trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere than CO₂.
  • Chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows are collectively the largest producer of methane in the U.S.
Nitrous Oxide (N₂O)
  • Nitrous oxide is 300× more powerful at trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere than CO₂.
  • The meat, egg, and dairy industries produce 65% of worldwide nitrous oxide emissions.
  • Nearly half of all water used in the United States goes to raising animals for food.
  • It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat vs. 25 gallons to produce 1 pound of wheat.
  • You'd save more water by not eating 1 pound of meat than you would by not showering for 6 months.
  • A meat-eating diet requires 4,000 gallons per day vs. a vegan diet which requires 300 gallons of water per day.
  • Animals raised for food create 89,000 pounds of excrement per second, none of which benefits from the waste-treatment facilities for human excrement. This creates massive amounts of groundwater pollution.
  • Chicken, hog, and cattle excrement has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 American states.
  • Raising animals for food uses 30% of the earth's land mass, or 17 million square miles. That's about the same size as Asia! The moon (at 14.6 million square miles) has less area than that.
  • More than 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to create cropland to grow grain to feed farmed animals.
  • The equivalent of 7 football fields of land are bulldozed every minute to create more room for farmed animals.
  • Livestock grazing is the number one cause of plant species becoming threatened or going
  • extinct in the U.S.
  • Animals eat large quantities of grain, soybeans, oats, and corn; however, they only produce a comparatively small amount of meat, dairy products, or eggs in return.
  • It requires 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat.
  • It requires 5 pounds of wild-caught fish to produce 1 pound of farmed fish.
Source (with references):

environment, environmentalism, vegetarianism, veganism

December 27, 2012

Unnecessary Death on the Farm

Death and the Oxen

To the Editor, Valley News (Lebanon, N.H. & White River Junction, Vt.):

In offering his perspective on killing as part of animal farming (“Death Is Always on the Farm Schedule,” Dec. 23), Chuck Wooster retold the story of Green Mountain College and their oxen Bill and Lou.

Wooster neglected to mention the actual issue in the matter — namely, at least two sanctuaries offered to take Bill and Lou to live out the rest of their lives in peaceful retirement with veterinary care that was not compromised by considerations of future edibility.

The issue became Green Mountain College’s adamant refusal to let Bill and Lou, whom they claimed to love, thus retire to a sanctuary.

There was no necessity driving that decision — neither economic, medical, nor dietary. Given a choice between life and death, the college chose needless death.

Eric Rosenbloom

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, Vermont

The internet and economics

“We have the impression with the copyright wars that the legislator tries to make the whole of society change to adapt to a framework that is defined by Hollywood, say, "Ok, what you're doing with your new cultural practice is just morally wrong, so if you don't want to stop it then we'll design legal tools to make you stop doing what you think is good." This is not the way to make good policy. A good policy looks at the world and adapts to it in order to correct what is wrong and to enable what is good.”

—Jérémie Zimmermann, Cypherpunks, by Assange, Appelbaum, Müller-Maguhn, and Zimmermann (2012, OR Books)

human rights, anarchism

December 26, 2012

The militarization of cyberspace

“[T]here is now a militarization of cyberspace, in the sense of a military occupation. When you communicate over the internet, when you communicate using mobile phones, which are now meshed to the internet, your communications are being intercepted by military intelligence organizations. It’s like having a tank in your bedroom. It’s a soldier between you and your wife as you’re SMSing. We are all living under martial law as far as our communications are concerned, we just can’t see the tanks — but they are there. To that degree, the internet, which was supposed to be a civilian space, has become a militarized space. But the internet is our space, because we all use it to communicate with each other and with the members of our family. The communications at the inner core of our private lives now move over the internet. So in fact our private lives have entered into a militarized zone. It is like having a soldier under the bed. This is a militarization of civilian life.”

—Julian Assange, Cypherpunks, by Assange, Appelbaum, Müller-Maguhn, and Zimmermann (2012, OR Books)

human rights, anarchism

December 24, 2012

“We need new, draconian gun access restrictions.”

What My Grandfather Would Do

By Ann Aikens, “Upper Valley Girl”, Vermont Standard (Woodstock), Dec. 20, 2012

When my mother's father died, she was a teacher in Wausau, Wis., a gorgeous young twenty-something that resembled Ingrid Bergman. She was close to her father, a big Irish motorcycle cop with a big laugh. While the details of the story she told me in high school are now hazy, and it is much too early as I write this to call her to confirm, I recall her being in a hospital room with him while her mother was walking briskly on the sidewalk outside. Her father was making terrible sounds, dying, and my mother was hoping against hope that her tiny, tough Swede of a mother would get inside quickly because it seemed he was hanging on for her arrival. I don't remember if my grandmother made it. In my mind it was snowing. I do know for sure that at his funeral it snowed, and this made my mother happy because my grandfather loved snow.

My guess is there will be a lot of arguments, in coming weeks, surrounding the notion, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," when it is plainly obvious that it is people with guns that kill people. Many more people a lot faster with greater certainty than if the killer didn't have a gun. This is why I have been for gun control since my youth. Then, I didn't live in an area where people hunted for meat. I have since shot guns myself at targets in the woods and at indoor ranges.

I don't know the answer, but I do know this: if I was hunting and a magical wood sprite promised, "If you give up your gun right now, there will never be another mass murder in the U.S.," I would trade it in for another "sport" in a heartbeat. I can't think of a single thing I wouldn't give up for that. Some argue that the bad guys will always have guns. That may be true, as it is in New York City where it's extremely difficult even for even a sane business owner in a high-crime neighborhood to legally procure a handgun, much less an assault rifle with a high-capacity magazine designed to kill many as quickly as possible. But regarding the black market gun argument, I doubt the mentally ill who fire upon schools or movie theaters would find much access to guns in a gunless America. Nor do I believe that all angry psychotics can be cured or neutralized by "early detection."

Guns are illegal in other countries, yet their citizens seem to live perfectly satisfying lives without them. They find other things to do there. Their murder rate is a fraction of ours, which is astonishing and shameful. At the very least, and I do mean the very least, immediate renewal of, the horrifyingly, inexplicably expired assault weapon ban is beyond discussion. We need new, draconian gun access restrictions. We've proven that, as a nation, we cannot be trusted with guns.

Here in rural America, I will make enemies by advocating for gun control. That's fine with me. I am unafraid to take a stand, take abuse, defend my position, get into a barn burner over it. But maybe I will carry as my silent weapon a photo of my friend's youngest child, Daniel, who will now remain forever and ever seven years old, with his wide, brown, little-boy eyes and unruly auburn hair and his two front teeth missing. If someone questions my stance on gun control, I will aim at them this photo. I couldn't care less what they say after that. But I suspect they won't say much. To me, anyway.

Without getting up, I open the blinds to look outside my window as I do after staring at the computer for hours, and think of my grandfather the motorcycle cop. He carried a gun. But he adored his children. And I wonder, if he'd seen what happened in Connecticut this week, to Daniel and the others, if he would give up his right to carry a gun if it would end these senseless massacres. I ask him this, the grandfather I never knew, as I peer up into the dark of winter's morning. In a cold December strangely devoid of the white stuff, it begins to snow.

human rights, Vermont

December 21, 2012

An ethical blind spot of the locavores

John Sanbonmatsu writes:

Kill Bill. And Lou, too.

That's what officials at Green Mountain College, in Poultney, Vt., decided to do to the two affectionate oxen on the college's working farm after one of the animals, Lou, sustained a minor leg injury over the summer. The college, whose reputation rests on its sustainable-agriculture program, announced that both oxen would be "processed" into hamburgers for the student cafeteria.

The case of Bill and Lou adds a new wrinkle to America's debate about the ethics of eating meat. For the first time, the public has been asked to consider whether the lives of farm animals matter, and not merely their quality of life. The story of the two oxen shows us why they do.

For decades, animal advocates struggled to bring public awareness to the horrific conditions on so-called "factory farms," where billions of sensitive animals languish in squalor and misery. While 99 percent of all meat consumed in the U.S. still comes from factory farms, consumers are increasingly uneasy with "farming" that treats animals viciously and is an ecological catastrophe.

Stepping into this growing breach between our stomachs and our moral sensibilities come the locavore and sustainability food movements. Such Bestsellers as Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" have reassured consumers that they can have their meat and their consciences, too, by choosing "humane" animal products "grown" on organic local farms. The crisis of animal agriculture, it is argued, can be solved through "organic beef," backyard chicken coops and do-it-yourself slaughter.

In reality, studies suggest that raising and killing billions of animals for human consumption is ecological bad news no matter how it's done, whether on small family farms or in concentrated animal-feeding operations (CAFOs). Cows grazed on pasture, for example, produce more carbon emissions per capita than grain-fed animals in intensive confinement.

Confronted with such inconvenient facts, however, locavores maintain that we have but two choices -- to eat animals "locally" or to eat them industrially. As Green Mountain's provost, William Throop, was quoted as saying in an Oct. 29 New York Times article about the situation, the college must choose "either to eat the animals that we know have been cared for and lived good lives or serve the bodies of nameless animals we do not know."

But the omnivore's dilemma is a false one. We could simply choose not to eat meat at all. Why then do locavores pretend that we only have two choices?

Perhaps because they have no good arguments to justify the violence required to run even a small-scale, organic animal farm -- the use of whips, nose-rings, barbed wire, castration, brandings with hot irons, decapitation by ax or knife. The absence of good reasons for their views may explain why locavores eschew moral philosophy for poetical reveries on the "cycle of life." As Green Mountain's provost put it, "Bill and Lou are not pets but part of an intimate biotic community" based on "relationships of care and respect."

However, there is something Orwellian about depicting animals like Bill and Lou as members of an "intimate community" of "care and respect," while moving with great institutional dispatch to shoot them in the head, cut their throats, bleed them to death, and serve them as burgers. Lip-service to "care" aside, the lives of Bill and Lou have been viewed with such low regard by Green Mountain that when a local animal sanctuary offered to take the oxen so that they might live out the rest of their lives in peace, the college flatly refused, explaining that, were the oxen permitted to live, they "would continue to consume resources at a significant rate, and as a sustainable farm" the college couldn't let that happen.

Merely to let Bill and Lou exist, in other words, would be to violate the college's virtuous circle of sustainability. As "living tools" -- Aristotle's definition of a slave -- Bill and Lou have had no value beyond their perceived usefulness. Once their ecological outputs exceeded their inputs, they became as dispensable as rusty farm implements. And so they must die.

Left unexplored in this chilling logic is why the human animals living and working on Green Mountain's campus, each responsible for a far greater carbon footprint than Bill and Lou combined, do not deserve similarly ruthless treatment. The average American generates 20 tons of carbon dioxide a year, far more even than the average dairy cow. Are we therefore "unworthy" of life? Or do we not recognize something vital about consciousness, all consciousness, that lends it a value beyond reduction to abstract efficiency ratios?

Year after year, Bill and Lou, lovely, gentle, intelligent, feeling beings, were coerced by their human overseers to labor for the college. They ploughed its rain-laden fields and pulled its heavy equipment, in inclement weather and in all seasons. The college then decided to "repay" this debt by cutting their throats and dismembering them, so that in this way they might be exploited one last time, in death too.

It is this grotesque and unfeeling utilitarian logic that accounts for the public outcry against Green Mountain's treatment of the oxen. It offends our sense of justice when "even" farm animals are treated with such ingratitude and casual brutality.

Alas, protests and petitions could not save Lou. In November, Green Mountain announced that it had "euthanized" Lou and buried his body in secret, claiming that his injury was causing him "discomfort." Bill has been granted a temporary stay of execution. The college won't say what it plans to do with him.

If there is a moral to this story, it is that the locavores have failed to dissolve the troubling ethical questions at the heart of animal agriculture, organic or not. Locavore critics assure us that it is morally acceptable to raise and kill other animals for food, provided that the latter have had a "good enough" life before being sent to slaughter. But they have not told us why.

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, Vermont

December 15, 2012

From the Autobiography of Malcolm X

I told him, “What you are telling me is that it isn’t the American white man who is a racist, but it’s the American political, economic, and social atmosphere that automatically nourishes a racist psychology in the white man.” He agreed.

“Conservatism” in America’s politics means “Let’s keep the niggers in their place.” And “liberalism” means “Let’s keep the knee-grows in their place — but tell them we’ll treat them a little better; let’s fool them more, with more promises.” With these choices, I felt that the American black man only needed to choose which one to be eaten by, the “liberal” fox or the “conservative” wolf — because both of them would eat him. I didn’t go for Goldwater any more than for Johnson — except that in a wolf’s den, I’d always know exactly where I stood; I’d watch the dangerous wolf closer than I would the smooth, sly fox. The wolf’s very growling would keep me alert and fighting him to survive, whereas I might be lulled and fooled by the tricky fox.

Yes, I’m an extremist. The black race here in North America is in extremely bad condition. You show me a black man who isn’t an extremist and I’ll show you one who needs psychiatric attention!

It’s their guilt that upsets them, not me.

As far as I am concerned, Mississippi is anywhere south of the Canadian border.

“Tell your brother for me to remember us in the alley,” Malcolm X said. “Tell him that he and all of the other moderate Negroes who are getting somewhere need to always remember that it was us extremists who made it possible.”

human rights

December 13, 2012

Self-sabotage at Green Mountain College

The people of Green Mountain College think it has been wrong for the public to protest their decision to kill their oxen instead of letting them retire at a sanctuary, because the people of GMC are against factory farms so the public should join them in protesting factory farms instead.

Some of them think that protesting GMC's decision to kill their beloved and hard-worked (if that's not too cognitively dissonant) oxen is serving the interests of industrial agriculture by attacking one group's efforts to challenge that hegemony.

Sorry, GMC folks, but that doesn't make any sense.

First, the people you are admonishing already protest factory farms. They care about animal welfare, and that is why they are protesting GMC's efforts regarding their oxen.

Second, killing two oxen after 11 years has nothing to do with moving away from factory farming. And the public outcry against the desire to kill them is not against your efforts to be independent from industrial ag.

The issue is not you or various elements of the public. It's Bill and Lou, and most people think Bill (Lou having already been dispatched) deserves a peaceful retirement. The more you try to rationalize the decision to kill them, the more unhinged and unlikeable you appear to be. And that, not the public's protest, is what reflects badly on, and thus most threatens, the mission we share.

Update, Dec. 22:  The most reactionary students at Green Mountain College continue to amuse with their self-righteous victimization narrative. After the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, they suggested that compared to that crime they ought to be absolved of murdering Lou and allowed to murder Bill. Now they have likened those trying to save Bill and Lou's lives to Fred Phelps and family’s Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, which blames all unnatural death on the tolerance of gays and travels around the country to disrupt funerals to celebrate those deaths as God's righteous punishment. The WBC, basically, hates everyone except themselves, which does not seem very different from what we've seen out of GMC.

But it gets more confused. The WBC post was a tongue-in-cheek letter of gratitude to the Phelps family for raising awareness of issues of intolerance and facilitating support drives. In their enthusiasm to embrace this new model of empowered victimization, the GMC students forget that elsewhere they and their professors (falsely) accuse animal rights and welfare activists of using GMC's intransigence (standing by their "values", as Fred Phelps would agree) for their own publicity. That is, they are now embracing a codependent tactic for which they had earlier attempted to condemn "ARAs". How must be logic twisted and mirror fogged to evade the truth!

Green Mountain College

Update, Dec. 24:  Another example brought to our attention of getting everything backwards (even their own defensive positions) is from GMC student Emily McCoy. On Dec. 14, she shared on Facebook a photo of President Obama wiping away a tear for the victims of Newtown, Conn., with the caption, "Pretends to cry about school shooting — while bombing innocent men, women, and children in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine." The first commenter (Jon) expressed disgust, which McCoy and others fended off, rightly noting the commander-in-chief's hypocrisy. But then she added, ‘Jon's reaction reminded me a lot of ARAs [animal rights activists] being all "everyone feels sorry for the billions of animals in CAFOs [concentrated animal feed operations], but you have a chance to spare the lives of THESE TWO OXEN. COMPASSION!"’

Her thinking almost defies analysis. Which it would have to, because it is animal rights and welfare activists who point out that killing Bill and Lou (and all the other animals on GMC's play-farm, since they insist on making that the issue) is the same result as on factory farms. She must see that, since she can see that we need to decry all of the deaths wrought in our name in other countries along with domestically. That is, killing in one's own backyard and killing in a distant place are both wrong. Killing in CAFOs is wrong, and so is killing in the "happy" farm. Of course, it's not the killing that bothers McCoy, and in that she is aligned with the President, who weeps for irrational carnage but has little problem with it when it is suitably rationalized. And so she believes that compassion means killing Bill and Lou, simply because they are not at a CAFO.

Just as McCoy challenges the President's compassion, we question hers.

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, Vermont, anarchism, ecoanarchism

December 11, 2012

Green Mountain College, Carnism, and the Embrace of Death

The echo chamber's not going to work if you allow dissenting opinions!
(Green Mountain College student Emily McCoy, who blocks Facebook users who engage her in public fora, on a GMC page that blocks dissenting opinions)

The people of Green Mountain College, Poultney, Vermont, remain defensive about the public outcry over their decision to kill for meat two oxen that they had worked for 10 years. A brief history: Lou was injured in the Spring such that he could no longer work; over the summer the GMC farm staff decided it was time to kill both him and his brother Bill and eat them (or, more likely, get some human-grade meat in exchange for their value as dog food). Some students and/or alumni, when classes resumed in the fall, were shocked by that decision and alerted Green Mountain Animal Defenders in Burlington, which led to an offer of veterinary care and sanctuary from VINE Sanctuary in Springfield. People’s shock at the decision to kill Bill and Lou was then compounded by GMC’s refusal of the offer to let them live out their lives in peaceful retirement. But the school became only more entrenched, lashing out at those asking for compassion and mercy as “extremists” and “abolitionists” “terrorizing” slaughterhouses and the college. Then they “euthanized” Lou (†Nov. 11, 2012), who had been seen happily grazing with Bill the day before his pre-dawn “sacrifice”, and perversely made themselves out to be the victim because he had to be composted instead of eaten. Two faculty members in particular, Steven Fesmire and Philip Ackerman-Leist, the latter a beef farmer himself, have been interviewing and writing all over the place to present this simple call for compassion toward two loved and hardworking oxen as a concerted and militant effort to end food choice and all animal agriculture.

It would be funny if it did not mean that Lou was killed and Bill remains in danger.

[[[[[ ]]]]]

The first reason given for killing Bill and Lou, and then for refusing sanctuary, was economic. In a cold calculus of utility, these aging oxen were deemed to be no longer paying for their upkeep, and a sanctuary would only perpetuate the “waste” of resources. This is the thinking of psychopaths. Bill and Lou are not machines to be junked for parts or materials, but living creatures as deserving and desiring to live as those calling for their deaths.

The defense developed, along with the paranoid exaggeration of “the enemy”, to a more complex idea of “sustainability”. At the basis of that “sustainability” ethic is the self-serving “happy meat” paradigm, by which human carnivores think they are being conscientious and environmentally mature by convincing themselves that their taste for meat is “love” for the animal itself and its place in nature (or rather the nature of agriculture that includes them), particularly when it is applied locally (eg, in the name of food sovereignty).

Let us look at that ethic, which has come to be called “carnism”.

To rationalize their inability or unwillingness to live without meat or dairy, they have constructed a system that is environmentally conscientious only within the terms of a perceived necessity for consumption of animals. There is no room in that vision for the rejection of animal agriculture. Ethical veganism is heretical, not just because it considers the interests, even rights, of the animals themselves (assuming that like all creatures they want to live full lives according to their own interests and social needs) apart from their usefulness to humans, but mostly because it recognizes that consuming animals is a choice, not a necessity.

With all ethical issues, each of us comes to a balance or accommodation that we are comfortable with, constantly weighing myriad factors of society, personality, culture, economy, etc. And that balance changes (or ought to) throughout our lives. Ethics isn’t about that balance, but about the choices we make when we are able to.

It is indeed good that some of those who won’t give up meat are trying to make that choice less cruel to the animals and less harmful to the environment. That is a step forward and does not obviate further steps. But the “carnist” trend of recent years has been to assert that it is actually better in every way (morally, environmentally, nutritionally) to continue to consume animals in this “balanced” way, which, first, is offensive to those whose decision not to is also shaped by efforts to be less cruel and harmful, and, second, only suggests that it most certainly is not.

It is obvious that loving animals can not include killing them unnecessarily just because we want to eat them. Animals are not things (”I love my teddy bear”). They are not meals (”I love squash soup”). Love, applied to any animal, is the same love we mean when we apply it to the human animal. That is a simple truth. The complex arguments to prove that animal agriculture is natural or necessary or beneficial serve to obscure that truth. They serve as a firewall between salving one’s conscience by treating animals marginally better and having to consequently recognize animals as having their own rights. They serve as an artificial boundary between granting animals a right to “welfare” and granting them the actual rights implied by concern for their welfare.

It is the same dynamic that has been seen in every battle for rights. Of course, the first principle of carnism is that animals aren’t people (not even noncivilized people, however sentient and social). Evolution of conscience is a slow process, and most vegans recognize that frustrating fact. Most of the time, they are biting their tongues about the world’s casual cruelty and disrespect. What vegans can not abide is carnists challenging or claiming superiority to veganism on any ground. It is frightening to see the lengths people go to rationalize needless killing. As they take their arguments farther and farther but go nowhere, stuck in their self-imposed carnism, their urge becomes to silence, if not destroy, those who remind them of that shortcoming. The vegan “no” is taken as an existential threat. Again, this is a fact of human history, which vegans must suffer through like anyone who has ever taken an ethical stand against entrenched cultural assumptions.

If carnists were truly comfortable about their choice, then they would not feel so threatened by the very existence of vegans. After all, everyone eats what vegans eat. Vegans just cut out the animal bits. And that small reduction of violence by our diet can only be for the good — of the planet, all animals, and humanity.

[[[[[ ]]]]]

As to Green Mountain College, they were given a choice: kill Bill and Lou or let them live out their lives at a sanctuary. While claiming to assert their rights and responsibilities, they revealed their sustainability ethic as one that embraces death, not love.

[See also:  Omnivores? ]

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, Vermont, ecoanarchism

December 6, 2012

Fluoridation of water: an idea whose time is passed

To the Editor, Valley News (Lebanon, N.H. & White River Junction, Vt.):

The editorial of Dec. 2 suggests that Bradford commissioners took a step backward in deciding not to continue fluoridation of the town water supply. The Centers for Disease Control is cited, recognizing "water fluoridation as one of ten great public health achievements of the 20th century."

Bradford, however, has taken a step forward, into the 21st century. Fluoride has long been established as an essential ingredient in toothpaste and other mouth care products. Vermont, where a large proportion of the population use water from their own wells, provides regular fluoride treatment to schoolchildren. And health risks from systemic ingestion of fluoride are increasingly acknowledged, for example, by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). That's why we are warned against swallowing toothpaste and fluoride rinses. Last year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Environmental Protection Agency drastically lowered their recommended levels for water fluoridation. Most European countries do not fluoridate their water.

The AAFP also notes that dental health in communities that don't fluoridate their water improved over the past decades along with those that do. Adding fluoride to the water is a crude approach to dental health compared to improved dental care.

Finally, the editorial attitude that the concerned minority "can opt out by buying bottled water" is arrogant and backwards. The burden should be to "opt in" to systemic fluoride dosing. In fact, fluoridated salt is fairly popular in Europe, just as iodized salt is common here.

Eric Rosenbloom

Update:  In a letter in support of the Valley News editorial, a Hanover pediatrician, Steven Chapman, claims to "see children every week from Bradford who will be hurt by the removal of fluoride from the water". But that is precisely the question: will they, particularly as dental care continues to expand and improve? Or if so, is it enough to warrant the crude dosing of systemic fluoride via the water system instead of more targeted topical delivery (such as fluoride washes in the schools)? Does water fluoridation only serve to take attention away from the real problem, which the writer recognizes, that at least one-third of Americans do not have medical insurance that includes dental care?

The writer also notes that fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral. So is arsenic. And he gives examples of everyday products that are fortified with minerals and vitamins to enhance public health. They are, of course, products that you can choose or choose not to buy, like fluoridated toothpaste. And they are additives that are not potentially harmful if too much is ingested, unlike fluoride.

Finally, he cites the "evidence" that every $1 invested in fluoridation saves $38 in dental treatment costs. That oft-repeated figure comes from one paper from Spring 2001 ("An economic evaluation of community water fluoridation"; Susan Griffin, Karl Jones, and Scott Tomar; Journal of Public Health Dentistry 61(2):78-86), which is not an analysis of historical costs but an estimate of future costs based on caries and fluoridation data from the 1970s and 1980s. But it is precisely the decline of caries since then, because of widespread toothpaste fluoridation and improved dental care, that calls into question the continued effectiveness of systemic fluoridation via the water supply. Even so, the authors recognize that estimating caries incidence in nonfluoridated versus fluoridated communities is difficult, as is identifying costs of both fluoridation and caries, further underscoring Chapman's irresponsible use of the word "evidence".

But this source for the claim of $38 dental cost savings for $1 of fluoridation doesn't even state that. It presents three scenarios in four community sizes, with resulting annual per-person savings ranging from 85 cents to $33.71. The $38 claim seems to be derived from the estimates for a community of >20,000 people of base-case net savings of $18.62 per person plus the cost of fluoridation of 50 cents per person: i.e., 50 cents invested in fluoridation might result in $19.12 in savings, or $1 saves $38. This ignores the full range of estimates, however, particularly for smaller communities. By the authors' estimates, a community of <5,000 people (like Bradford) would likely save only $6, but possibly as little as $1.25, for every $1 of fluoridation.

But again, those are broad estimates only, and they are based on decades-old data.

human rights, Vermont