Are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) a threat to organic agriculture? Are they dangerous when consumed? Do they lead to higher use of chemical herbicides and pesticides? And why aren’t GMOs labeled so we know which foods are made with them? We find and discuss the latest news on this critical issue.
. . . or buy them from your small, local organic farmer. This article on efforts to produce a tastier commercial tomato is, frankly, sad. We all know the problem with grocery store tomatoes (pdf format): they’re bland if not completely tasteless. Compare them to the most mediocre tomato grown in someone’s back yard and that mediocre tomato shines by comparison. Compare them to any decent, heirloom tomato from your garden or a small, local, organic farmer and, well, there’s no comparison.
Not only do homegrown and small farm organic tomatoes taste better than commercial tomatoes, they have more nutrition.
So you have to feel bemused if not sorry for professor Harry Klee at the University of Florida’s Institute for Plant Innovation program. Sure, his goals are admirable: he’s trying to “build” a better supermarket tomato. That means more flavor. And there’s nothing wrong with that. And he’s going about it very scientifically. He extracts the “flavor compounds” in tomatoes, separates their various components, and then studies them genetically in an attempt to duplicate them in commercial tomatoes. While he studies the genetics of these tomato components, he isn’t out to genetically modify tomatoes. Instead he uses standard hybridization techniques, albeit in the laboratory, in an attempt to create commercial tomatoes with improved taste. (more…)
The plague that’s sweeping orange groves across the world — it’s known as “citrus greening” — was discovered in Florida in 2005. With millions of trees at stake and huge amounts of money, big growers responded as they often do: spray more pesticides. It was thought that killing the insect that spreads the bacterium coupled with burning all the diseased citrus trees might solve the problem. You already know the answer to that one.
The usual cross-breeding of orange trees with disease resistant varieties couldn’t work because no one could find an orange tree that was resistant to the disease. So they came up with what they thought was the next best thing. Find another living thing that was resistant, or even immune, and graft its genes into the orange. Voila!, a genetically-modified solution. Considered donors, so far for this modification? Other kinds of trees, a couple vegetables, a virus and … wait for it… pigs! (more…)
We’ve already mentioned the fine documentary released early this summer More Than Honey, a film that looks at the behavior of bees as well as issues and consequences behind colony collapse disorder that’s sweeping the world. As the movie states, bee activity is responsible for a third of the food we eat. Losing them would have impacts well beyond the loss of some fruit. It could mean a complete change in the way we live. The movie shows us an example of a place where bees have already vanished and the consequences that followed.
The place is China. Seems that Mao Tzedog before his death in 1976 decided that a plague of sparrows was putting a large dent in grain production. So in the kind of short-sighted, ill-conceived wisdom that’s apparently shared by Chinese dictators and American corporate agricultural CEOs, Mao called for the elimination of sparrows. The killing of the sparrows released a swarm of insects, a problem that affected agriculture much more than the damage done by the birds. So massive spraying programs were instituted. The spraying not only killed harmful insects, it killed beneficial ones as well, including pollinators. Without bees, Chinese crops blossomed but didn’t produce. The solution? Hand pollination. (more…)
The growing and use of genetically engineered crops are a big issue. Yet little has been done, despite consumer efforts, to label those products in the USA or ban their growth and use all together.
Europe has long been a beacon of sanity when it comes to banning the use of GMOs in processed food as well as the raising of GMO crops. The European Union prohibits or restricts the import of food products from the U.S. that contain ingredients from genetically modified crops. While GMO crops make up over 80% of the corn and over 90% of the soy raised in the U.S., those figures are closer to 1% in Europe. In the U.S. some 80% of the processed foods contain GMOs.
Now the corporate powers who profit from GMOs have found an opening into European markets. The TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks that opened in June will consider the GMO restrictions among dozens if not hundreds of other disputes involving the U.S. and its European Trading Partners. Those talks are secret. (more…)
Your friendly and equally inquisitive Planet Natural Blogger gets questions. Sometimes they’re real stumpers. Here’s one:
If you are composting GMOs without knowing it does it mean you are growing them by using the compost?
We had to think about this awhile. We know that the composting process is capable of great things. We know that it can help “repair” contaminated soils and prevent toxic runoff into our watercourses; that it can reduce to some degree the toxicity of soils contaminated with chemicial substances such as creosote; that it can even reduce the toxicity of explosive residues of the sort found in dumps on military reservations (but that it leaves behind another problem: mutigenicity).
But what happens when genetic plants are composted? Will the genetically-mutated materials break down? And will any of the components that the mutation generates — say the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) that acts as a pesticide in GMO corn — will those be broken down as well? (more…)
An article in The New York Times seems to celebrate weeds: their hardiness, their adaptability, their ability to quickly evolve. It’s overall theme? In the battle between weeds and chemical herbicides, weeds eventually and always win. And while it takes some reading between the lines, the article also draws conclusions that organic gardeners have known all along. One… herbicides can be dangerous. Two… a variety of techniques, many of them organic, are needed to actually reduce crop losses caused by weeds.
So why use herbicides? Their development (PDF format) was thought to be a tremendous breakthrough. As far back as Roman times farmers spread salt on their fields to destroy their enemies’ crops. Modern weed killers were introduced during World War II and their use skyrocketed after that. Chemical companies soon learned that herbicides meant big money. But almost as quickly, weeds began to develop resistance to the chemicals. Today, it’s estimated that at least 217 varieties of weeds have developed resistance (follow the link to see a frightening photo of giant ragweed taking over a field of Roundup resistant corn). (more…)
That so-good-for-you vegetable — broccoli — is in the news. A “dream team” of botanists, agrarians, and marketers has come together at Cornell University to create a broccoli that will grow in areas where the heat-sensitive cruciferous won’t normally grow. And therein lies the problem. Since nearly all commercial broccoli is grown in California, the plant suffers days of transportation before its delivered to midwestern, southern and eastern markets, a time that saps the broccoli of its fresh taste and snap. The new hybridized broccoli can withstand the relative evening warmth and humidity that has made successful commercial farming of broccoli east of the Rocky Mountains difficult. The New York Times has the story.
The piece is actually a double profile of both broccoli and the plant physiologist who fronts the broccoli effort, Dr. Thomas Bjorkman. Bjorkman, himself a vegetarian, has envisioned making broccoli more readily available in American markets. He’s also sought to make it more palatable and nutritious. Apparently he’s succeeded. The new hybrid broccoli contains more glucoraphanin, a compound that’s been found to prevent cancer. (more…)
Disguised in the cover of a favorite summer time topic — why don’t store-bought tomatoes taste good? — The New York Times has printed a story, “You Call That A Tomato?”, with an accompanying video that frames the movement to label genetically modified food sources in the GMO development’s first failure: the Flavr Savr tomato. Brought to market in 1994, the Flavr Savr created a small sensation. Here was a tomato designed to withstand the rigors of shipping, one that would last in your kitchen for weeks while regular tomatoes shriveled and went bad. It was clearly labeled and marketed by its manufacturer Calgene as a product of “trans genetic plants.” Everyone knew what it was and why. At the time, it was seen as the leading edge of a Brave New World technology.
Watch the video for its historical and modern contrasts. You’ll hear celebrity news person Connie Chung announcing its release and Tom Brokaw repeating, “and they say it’s tastier.” How the tomato’s sale ended in disaster is more a product of marketing and a lack of practical information on the raising and shipping of tomatoes. The Flavr Savr, grown in Mexico and poorly packed and shipped, often arrived in American markets as soup. The price for them was at least twice as high as that for a regular tomato. And in a bit of the emperor not wearing clothes, consumers were shown savoring the taste of the tomato when in fact it had little taste at all. (more…)
Not quite under the radar, but not visible enough to gain attention from national media, was a bill introduced in Congress that would require the labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients.
Introduced in April, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act was brought to the Senate by California Democrat Barbara Boxer and to the House by Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio. Here’s Senator Boxer’s announcement of the national gmo labeling bill complete with cosponsors and approving organizations, a group that includes the Consumer’s Union, the Center For Food Safety, and the Center for Environmental Health as well as several food marketers, a group that ranges from Lundberg Family Farms to Ben & Jerry’s.
While not completely ignored — the gmo labeling bill has nine cosponsors in the Senate and 22 in the House — its chances of even being given a hearing are slim considering the state of our dead-in-the-water congress. Only one cosponsor from both houses is a Republican and both of those are from Alaska. (Alaska state legislators have passed a law requiring the labeling of all genetically modified fish and shell fish and the state recently turned down a petition from AquaBounty Technologies to produce GMO salmon in state waters. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and other grocery marketers have announced they will not carry AquaBounty salmon when it reaches the market.) (more…)
On Monday, Connecticut became the first state to pass a GMO labeling bill. But before breaking out in cheers, listen to this: the bill comes with a few, at least temporarily knotty strings attached.
Due to heavy lobbying, several conditions were attached to the bill. One would require at least four other states to join Connecticut in passing GMO labeling laws. Those states must have a total population of 20 million. And one of them must border Connecticut.
Many labeling supporters see the conditions as a way to permanently cripple the bill. Others have saluted the bill as progress. One report called the compromises a “condition of virtual impotence. ” This report also identified the largest and most active opponents to the measure, a group that includes lobbying organizations supporting the Connecticut bio-tech industry, giant grocery retailers and — you guessed it — Monsanto. (more…)