Monday, February 4, 2013

Organic Food Causes Autism and Diabetes

While people think of "organic" cultivation techniques as natural and safe, there are important points we might consider.  Most of the plants used today have only been developed genetically in the last 100 years, and even "heirloom" varieties were bred relatively recently.  There have been no long term studies, and plants certainly are known to produce a wide suite of toxic compounds.  

Worse, organically cultivated plants are placed in highly artificial environments.  Rather than growing in soil as it exists, soils are highly amended with composts and manures. High levels of nitrogen and carbon dramatically alter gene expression leading to patterns never observed in nature. Van Djik et al. (2012) found that there were dramatic differences in gene expression between conventional and organically-grown potatoes, with organic potatoes showing higher expression of stress-related genes. There have been no long-term studies to assess the effects of this un-natural gene expression. 

It is clear that this causes human diseases. The first graph below shows organic food sales.  The second graph shows increasing numbers of autistic children and the bottom graph shows diabetes.  Those results are pretty conclusive. 


The graph on the left shows organic food sales. The graph on the right shows autism incidence. The graph below shows increases in diabetes.  Clearly a connection. 



Do these data support a hypothesis that organic food causes autism or diabetes?  Not at all.  The paragraphs above do illustrate how easy it is to write something completely unfounded that sounds legitimate. In these cases the data are real but they implied associations are not, or at least there is no evidence for them. 

But if you read comments sections of blogs and articles there is a massive tendency to draw a link between GMO food, cancer, diabetes, autism, etc based on the same type of correlations. 

Even Robyn O'Brien, a sharp author and communicator, fails to see the difference between causation and correlation in her TEDx talk.  She passionately develops a relationship between GMO crops and allergies, asthma, obesity and other human ills-- that absolutely does not exist.  It is a little dishonest. 

Bookmark this page.  Next time you see someone stating that transgenic crops are dangerous because of disease incidence since they were introduced, remind them that many other dynamics are also at play.  Also remind them that there is no legitimate causal relationship between biotechnology and human disease or disorders. 


The Identification and Interpretation of Differences in the Transcriptomes of Organically and Conventionally Grown Potato Tubers

Jeroen P. van Dijk, Katarina Cankar, Peter J. M. Hendriksen, Henriek G. Beenen, Ming Zhu, Stanley Scheffer, Louise V. T. Shepherd, Derek Stewart, Howard V. Davies, Carlo Leifert, Steve J. Wilkockson, Kristina Gruden, and Esther J. Kok
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2012 60 (9), 2090-2101

61 comments:

Charles Rader said...

Actually, the practice of GMO criticism is even worse. If the data doesn't show correlation, some commentators just leave out the data and imply a correlation that doesn't even exist. How many times have you seen an anti-GMO comment about the exponential increase in cancer. But since GMO foods began to be eaten, cancer diagnoses have decreased. It doesn't matter.

Michael said...

Kevin, this is hilarious, and I'm going to use it in my class. I've been discussing critical thinking and the "correlation/causation" fallacy, and this will fit right in.

Oh--and it's a class about food!

s.d. savage said...

What makes me sad about this is that far too many people will have believed what they have read and fear this technology. I'm afraid that your excellent satire will not reach them. Still it is worth a try

Jerome said...

good post, found your blog from its mention on the discover blog. I usually find myself defending GMO but one criticism i think is valid is large companies preventing scientists from doing research with the seeds? How are we to know if GMO claims are valid if they are not reproducible by scientists outside the company? My only reference for this is a article in SEED magazine you can find online. Do you find this a valid criticism?

Ena Valikov said...

Hi Kevin.
Is it possible for you to share the actual study you cite? I would love to contribute, but can't comment from the abstract, sorry. And this one, as well - unrelated to GMOS.,,,but would VERY much appreciate. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature11837.html dogctor@yahoo.com
Thanks in advance.


Mike said...

This was great. Thanks for the laugh.

Anonymous said...

An interesting aside is that most Organic farming techniques result in less output than the GMO alternative. While this slightly reduced output shows up in slightly higher prices in the first world it also means far less food is available to ship to the third world. so it *may* be reasonable to say that Organic Food increases starvation related deaths.

Anonymous said...

ROFL!! Sounds like you've been eating too many GMOs! Thanks for the laugh!

Anonymous said...

Except a link between GMO isn't just some random correlation it is backed by peer reviewed evidence. The evidence suggests that organic food consumption would actually lower the risk of autism and diabetes. To begin with studies suggest high fructose corn syrup(HFCS) is linked to both diabetes( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23181629 ) and autism ( http://www.clinicalepigeneticsjournal.com/content/4/1/6?goback=%2Egna_1995021%2Egde_1995021_member_189338899 ) and HFCS is primarily made from genetically engineered corn. Another link was found between exposure to organophosphates and autism and almost 1/3 of all children with autism also met the criteria for ADHD. Studies suggest children who eat organic foods had less exposure to organophosphates which are likely primarily obtained through diet ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1367841/ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18414640 ) and ADHD is also linked to organophosphate exposure at levels found in children, which from the previous study is likely obtained through diet. ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20478945 )

Anonymous said...

For starvation, “The world currently produces enough food for everybody, but many people do not have access to it” http://www.fao.org/hunger/en/ “A UN investigator into food policy, Jean Ziegler, told the London-based Independent newspaper that he was "against the theory of the multinational corporations who say if you are against hunger you must be for genetically modified organisms".
"There is plenty of natural, normal, good food in the world to nourish the double of humanity," he says.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/2459903.stm

Actually, it may be reasonable to say GE foods increase starvation. Most GE crops in the U.S. are commodity crops, which receive subsidies that create an artificial low price for these products and farmers in developing countries who do not receive subsidies can't compete. It is subsidies on GE crops that increase poverty, hunger, etc.
http://www.ncpa.org/pub/ba547
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15195443
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC219639/

Another issue is, most GE crops produced in the U.S. aren't really food crops. Varieties of Bt corn are primarily used for ethanol production, cattle feed and corn syrup, corn oil, etc. Cotton and Canola varieties are primarily used for oils, Sugar beets used for sugar, Tobacco isn't food, etc. Most GE crops are "food additive crops", they don't really provide the nutrients to reduce undernourishment and as you can see from the post above, some GE crops may contribute to increases in diabetes and autism.

Another issue is that GE crops generally sell for less than organic or even conventional crops and many countries don't want GE crops so it limits the marketing ability. A poor farmer cannot afford to sell crops for less(and pay more for seeds, inputs, etc.), as this will lead to an increase in poverty which many suggest is the principle cause of hunger.

While organic may generally have reduced yields in developed countries, in areas with poor access to water or drought conditions for example, organic generally performs better. http://www.mendeley.com/research/environmental-energetic-and-economic-comparisons-of-organic-and-conventional-farming-systems/

Anonymous said...

So, it appears organic farming can decrease poverty and therefore hunger in developing countries. "Poverty is a major contributory factor to food security, organic farmers benefit from (i) cash savings, as organic farming precludes the need to purchase synthetic pesticides and fertilisers; (ii) extra incomes gained by selling the surplus produce(resulting from the change to organic); (iii) premium prices for certified organic produce, obtained primarily in Africa for export but also for domestic markets; and (iv) added value to organic products through processing activities. These findings are backed up by studies from Asia and Latin America that concluded that organic farming can reduce poverty in an environmentally friendly way." "Organic farming can lead to increased food production – in many cases a doubling of yields has been seen""the average crop yield increase was even higher for these projects: 116 per cent increase for all African projects and 128 per cent increase for the projects in East Africa" http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/ditcted200715_en.pdf

Another issue is that the huge majority of GE crops approved for human consumption are herbicide tolerant or express an insecticide. The use of pesticides collectively has reduced food overall in many developing countries, for example, "In the flood plains of Bangladesh, community-based organic agriculture resulted from an increasing awareness to the harmful effects of the Green Revolution. The latter was showing a tremendous decline in crop yields despite an enormous increase in the need for the application of fertilizers and pesticides. Groundwater was less available, livestock and fish populations were diminishing, the health situation was worsening (including gastric, skin and respiratory diseases)" http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/ac784e/ac784e-01.htm

So, it is the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that has contaminated their water supply, reduced the fish and livestock that they would consume, etc. all of which lead to an increase in undernourishment.

There are several other issues as well, many of which are covered in this report. http://www.agassessment.org/reports/IAASTD/EN/Agriculture%20at%20a%20Crossroads_Global%20Report%20(English).pdf

Ash@Fresh Produce said...

I hope there is more evidences on this matter. I appreciate your writing, specifically this topic, however this is alarming if according to your source organic food can cause autism and diabetes. I'm just wondering why this soo good food can caused that. I have a doubt but I also won't take this for granted. I'll do more readings regarding this. Thanks for sharing.

Kevin M. Folta said...

Hey Ash...

S-A-T-I-R-E.

As scientists we deeply lament the use of baseless correlation to relate GMO foods to harmful effects.

I tried an interesting thought exercise in logic just to put in a curveball.

I think it fooled you a bit... Please read completely and I welcome your response.

The bottom line is that our food is good and safe, organic or GMO. It is a great time to be a human in a wealthy country. Best wishes always.

M.G. Meyers said...

90% of philosophy is to question the meanings of words. They are our biggest assumptions! Critical skills are always important - "be specific".

When using the term GMO, I think it would be most helpful to distinguish between them, so as to not lump all GMOs into one thought ("good" or "bad"). We wouldn't want to lump mandrake in with broccoli.

There are hundreds of rDNA breeds produced in the academic sector, but these should not be lumped together with Monsanto rDNA, namely; BT and Roundup Ready. I think using these names will help, and do much better tan simply to say "GMO". There are 240 million acres of these two general brands of GMO products out there - over 99% of all GMO acreage.

BT incorporates soil bacteria DNA into plant DNA to make a plant that paracitizes cells within the insect that eats it (killing the insect when it does). The AAEM called for a moratorium pending further study between BT foods and all variety of colo-rectal diseases.

Roundup Ready species have to be dowsed in Roundup weed killer to grow. In the end, these foods contain unacceptable (by govt) levels of glyphosate. You can find studies supporting links between glyphosate and autism, as well as other diseases.

So let's be critical!

Michael said...

M. G. Meyers, you're funny! You ask for "critical" distinctions and yet you can't distinguish between reputable organizations and quack organizations like AAEM!

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/environmental-medicine/

http://www.quackwatch.org/04ConsumerEducation/nonrecorg.html

Ewan R said...

"BT incorporates soil bacteria DNA into plant DNA to make a plant that paracitizes cells within the insect that eats it"

Parasitizes? Erm, not really. Coding region from a soil bacteria (mutated in various versions to increase efficacy) is utilized to produce a protein which binds specifically to a receptor in the insect gut which (as far as I recall) causes the gut to rupture thus killing the insect.

"Roundup Ready species have to be dowsed in Roundup weed killer to grow. In the end, these foods contain unacceptable (by govt) levels of glyphosate. You can find studies supporting links between glyphosate and autism, as well as other diseases. "

Roundup Ready varieties absolutely do not have to be dowsed (or doused, dowsing is going to be an ineffective method of weed control (albeit just as effective as finding water, or minerals by dowsing)) in roundup to grow. They grow just fine with or without the application of roundup, which is rather the point, as most plants keel over and die (if one employs a little artistic license!) on application of roundup. Even when roundup is applied saying the plants are doused is a gross misrepresentation - Roundup weathermax for instance suggests an application rate of 22oz/acre, now if this is on corn you're talking somewhere in the region of 30,000 plants per acre, which equates to 0.0006oz per plant, this of course would be in a tank mix of probably 10-20 gallons per acre, which increases your application to a massive 0.0006 Gallons per plant, or 2ml.

If you're calling 2ml a dousing I have to wonder on what bizarre scale you operate. Are you perchance 2 inches tall? (Even if you are this'd be a mild soaking, but at least you'd be within an order of magnitude)

"You can find studies supporting links between glyphosate and autism, as well as other diseases. "

Interesting on a blog post giving strong support to a link between organics and said issues.

"So let's be critical!"

Yes, let's do that.

M.G. Meyers said...

I'm glad to see no one has countered the point in improving references to GMOs, by referring more specifically to BT and Roundup Ready, which constitute the overwhelming majority of actual GMO acreage world-wide.

Speaking of the AAEM, which has been attacked by the FDA. Here, the FDA is trying to stop any whistle-blowers on its staff...

"FDA Employees File Lawsuit, Claiming the Agency Used Spyware against Them"
http://www.spamfighter.com/News-17375-FDA-Employees-File-Lawsuit-Claiming-the-Agency-Used-Spyware-against-Them.htm

And here in the NY Times... "WASHINGTON — A wide-ranging surveillance operation by the Food and Drug Administration against a group of its own scientists used an enemies list of sorts as it secretly captured thousands of e-mails that the disgruntled scientists sent privately to members of Congress, lawyers, labor officials, journalists and even President Obama, previously undisclosed records show. "
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/us/fda-surveillance-of-scientists-spread-to-outside-critics.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Moving onto BT... The concern by AAEM is the paracitizing of the DNA of gut flora, because BT soil bacteria can do this. Here is a description from another source on the effects of BT...

"Bt has to be eaten to cause mortality. The Bt toxin dissolve in the high pH insect gut and become active. The toxins then attack the gut cells of the insect, punching holes in the lining. The Bt spores spills out of the gut and germinate in the insect causing death within a couple days.

Even though the toxin does not kill the insect immediately, treated plant parts will not be damaged because the insect stops feeding within hours. Bt spores do not spread to other insects or cause disease outbreaks on their own.

1. Insect eats Bt crystals and spores.

2. The toxin binds to specific receptors in the gut and the insects stops eating.

3. The crystals cause the gut wall to break down, allowing spores and normal gut bacteria to enter the body.

4. The insect dies as spores and gut bacteria proliferate in the body. "...
http://www.bt.ucsd.edu/how_bt_work.html


Let's not get carried away with the use of the term "dowsing". Moving on to unacceptable levels of glyphosate...

Glyphosate in Urine (and rising levels in groundwater from agricultural practices)...
http://www.gmwatch.eu/component/content/article/13631

Glyphosate Herbicide Found in Many Midwestern Streams
http://toxics.usgs.gov/highlights/glyphosate02.html

"Scientist warns of dire consequences with widespread use of glyphosate"
http://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/may10/consequenceso_widespread_glyphosate_use.php
Continuing with glyphosate as a topic...

" Over-reliance on glyphosate-type herbicides for weed control on U.S. farms has created a dramatic increase in the number of genetically-resistant weeds, according to a team of agricultural researchers, who say the solution lies in an integrated weed management program.

"I'm deeply concerned when I see figures that herbicide use could double in the next decade," said David Mortensen, professor of weed ecology at Penn State."
http://westernfarmpress.com/management/glyphosate-reliance-recoils-us-agriculture

Eight Ways Monsanto Fails at Sustainable Agriculture
(Union of Concerned Scientists)
http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/eight-ways-monsanto-fails.html

There are many good sources of the troubling, unsustainable practices, increasing costs, and environmental impacts of Roundup Ready crops.

M.G. Meyers said...

More on Glyphosate... In foods...

"Monsanto wants glyphosate residues in food to rise:
Food Herbicide Residues Set to Rise As Much As 150 Times"

..."GM crops, such as maize and soya, are frequently sprayed directly with glyphosate. Most of these crops are fed to animals, and residues in meat and milk may result. "...

M.G. Meyers said...

Link for the last article:
http://www.gmwatch.eu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13674

Anonymous said...

As many comments have already suggested, you have made a serious correlation/causation fallacy. I highly recommend taking a research methods course.

Kevin M. Folta said...

I think it is so cool that Anonymous posters don't read the piece that they comment on! Some moron (sorry) actually posted that I need to take a class in methods so that I don't confuse correlation and causation!

Ugh.

Kevin M. Folta said...

MG Myers seems sharp and writes well, but has little filter for real science. The 'evidence' presented is pretty flimsy and from activist websites for the most part.

Kevin M. Folta said...

I think it is so cool that Anonymous posters don't read the piece that they comment on! Some moron (sorry) actually posted that I need to take a class in methods so that I don't confuse correlation and causation!

Ugh.

Pedro Simão said...

Kein, I just want to know... Are you a scientist?

In my opinion, I am always in favor of science. If it is not for science, the humanity would already be dead of diseases, or we can even be destroyed by an asteroid one day... like the one almost hit the earth two weeks ago. So thanks god there is the atomic bomb and missels, in case we need to destroy an asteroid heading to earth, and thanks god there is the development of genetic research.

But am I in favor of using atomic bombs for wars. NOOOO. I am definitely not. Just as I am not in favor of genetic modified food WITH A LOT OF HEAVY TOXIC THAT KILLS EVERYTHING. Specially without 20 years of scientific experiments before.

Industry is leading the society to a genetic modified world. Their only interest of industry: MONEY!

But as I said. I am very much in favor of scientists and science. I think all genetic modified aliments research should be FINANCED by the state. But I think no aliment should come to market before at least 20 years of testing. Really, at least, I don't wanna be a laboratory mouse of the scientific history (even though I already am).

Between the "dangers" of organic food, and the dangers of genetic modified food. I really prefer the first one.

Kevin M. Folta said...

Pedro,

Yes, I'm a scientist. I think you missed the point of my post. Read it again carefully... think about it.

There is no evidence whatsoever that GM products are dangerous. What you are referring to are the successful attempts to scare you with junk science or scare you with good science that does not say what people claim.

There is much more non-profit, federal and state run GMO research and outstanding products. We'd crush the corporations in this realm.

However, activists have made the approval process so impossible, expensive and long that small companies and universities can't commercialize the materials. That's why big corps are the only people in the game and why it looks like money, money, money.

And I've got news for you... R&D costs a lot of money-- massive. These companies need to make a lot because it costs a lot, thanks to high regulations and insane costs to commercialize.

Patrick Toy said...

This is my first visit to your blog and I'm glad I continued reading past the fallacy. As soon as I read the tongue-in-cheek bit I was screaming in my head "correlation does not imply causation!" I didn't catch the sarcasm initially, so my mood was much improved on reading your conclusion.

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Victoria B said...

Interestingly, you have inadvertently proven another reason why so many people walk around spouting inaccurate stats. People only read the headlines (or the first two paragraphs, in the case of your article). People are lazy and they want things summed up as sound bites (which is great for media with an agenda). A few of your commenters (who didnt make it far enough in your post to realize that it was satire) made this point beautifully.

Kevin M. Folta said...

Victoria,

That was one wonderful by-product of the post, as you point out. Pretty cool!

Natural Foods said...

Hard to believe.. organic food items come with so many health benefits.. how can it cause diabities...?

madone78 said...

For the love of God and all that is holy please read the entire article and not just the headlines and first few sentences. It was written to demonstrate how easily it is to confuse correlation with causation. He made it up. He did it to show that just as some whip out graphs that purportedly show a causal connection between consumption of gm crops and various diseases that it could be done just as easily for organic food consumption and disease.

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Boby singh said...

I do not like to buy an organic produce general, either. I will if it is on sale or reasonably priced. I am like Amber, though, and I do try to buy local at farmer's markets when it is possible. But for me, I can't justify the cost of buying exclusively organic produce.

Organic Food Toowoomba said...

how can it cause Autism and diabetes?
Its really hard to belive..

Anonymous said...

Sigh. It's hopeless.

Anonymous said...

Not only hopeless, did you notice half the inane comments also had links to bullshit sites trying to sell you something?

Lotte said...

Great story, thanks a lot. Unfortunately the difference between correlation and causality seems hard to grasp even for natural scientists, and the misuse of data, as you illustrate, is used all over. Critical thinking... so tiresome...

It does bother me that the GMO debate is always centered around health and roundup. What about the ruthless patenting of genes, taken straight from wild relatives of crops, which makes companies owners of nature (how is that even possible) and limits innovation and competition on the seed market? What about the persistent unwillingness of GM-producing companies to label their food? What about the endless monocultures, and their effect on ecology? Admitted, hybrid seeds are also planted in monoculture, but the scale is very different. What about the 27 known roundup-resistant weeds in the US? I think these are issues to debate about!

Healthy Organic Food said...

Really..Is it so Natural food products will cause Autism an all???...I completely diagree with your post....

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Colin said...

As you have stated in the article, there is no evidence of correlation. However it is a little disingenuous to slant the article against the GM naysayers since there is no evidence/studies to compare GM/organic for harm/good. Fact is we don't definitively know. However experience does suggest that if large companies are heavily promoting and lobbying for GM, there is profit to be made. In this case, I believe farmers will be tied into a monopoly and this always raises prices for the manufacturers. I don;t have the references but it is simple economics and human behaviour.

Victor said...

This is cool!

Ramesh chauhan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"However experience does suggest that if large companies are heavily promoting and lobbying for GM, there is profit to be made."

I see even more promoting and lobbying for organic. That is why so many people are so ignorant about GM food. Do a search on GMO and you get hundreds of websites - many brought to you by big organic - telling you how dangerous GMO foods are and how you need to be eating organic instead.

Anonymous said...

A little dishonest? Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black? You make the title of your article something that will create fear and confusion and then mock people that aren't "scientists". You state that Robyn O'Brien develops a relationship that absolutely does not exist BUT you can't PROVE that it does NOT exist so your statement is just as flawed. BECAUSE of the way that GM crops have been introduced into the ecosystem we do not have the luxury of a control group. The basic truth is that humans have survived for thousands upon thousands of years WITHOUT GM crops and the only real reason for them at this point is greed. Organics would be a moot point if corporate "scientists" weren't whipping up stuff to alter nature in the first place. Get off your self made pedestal. This article is as much a part of the problem as the ones you make fun of.

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Haha! These graphs are a joke. Diabetics eat so much organic produce. Yeah right, dude. More internet propaganda. Just wasted ten minutes of my life on something I thought would have merit. Clearly I was mistaken. What a crock.

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Anonymous said...

How come when it comes to CO2 and the environment that correlation DOES equal causation?...

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