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.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments in the case of Monsanto, manufacturer of genetically engineered — or GMO — soy beans, and 75-year-old Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman who over a period of years bought seed stored at his local grain elevator for a risky, second season planting of beans. Some of the beans that area farmers had deposited at the elevator were Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready seeds for which Monsanto holds the patent.
Monsanto discovered that the seed Bowden was buying contained some seed harvested from RoundUp Ready crops and sued in 2007, winning a judgment of $84,456 from a small farmer who works some 300 acres.
The corporation’s patent policy prevents farmers from saving or reusing their seed for planting. Monsanto claims that they have rights no matter how far down the line their seed is planted. The irony here is that Bowman bought Monsanto seed legally and used it according to the corporation’s dictates for his first crop. (more…)
Genetically-modified or GMO wheat may still be several years down the pipe. But it has some Washington State farmers worried. Their concerns, expressed earlier this week at Senate hearings on the state’s proposed Initiative 522, “The People’s Right To Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” shed light on a seldom discussed but important argument against the use of GMO crops: loss of international markets.
The warning from wheat farmers came at the end of this article in the Seattle Times. They pointed out that the United States practically stands alone in acceptance of GMO crops. Over 60 countries banned the use of genetically-engineered crops for human consumption, and those countries won’t accept GMOs for import. Tom Stahl, a wheat grower in Douglas County, told the hearing, “I farmed all these years just fine without any GMOs. But I cannot farm without my markets.” Some 85% of the wheat grown in Washington state is exported. (more…)
Items (and garden news) of interest to organic gardeners, natural lifestyle, and health-conscious individuals that we’ve come across in the last few weeks:
–Legislation introduced in New Mexico that would have required labeling of foods that contain GMOs passed the state’s Public Affairs Committee only to have that recommendation turned down by the entire Senate which voted not to adopt the committee’s report. State Senator Peter Wirth who wrote the bill was quoted by Albuquerque Business First saying, “Even though SB 18 is dead this year, it’s clear that New Mexicans want and deserve a label that tells them whether or not their food has been genetically engineered.” Stay tuned.
–Drought and deficit: The New York Times is reporting that last summer’s drought will cost taxpayers an estimated $16 billion in crop insurance payments. That’s in addition to $11 billion that’s already been paid out in indemnity costs to farmers, a figure that could balloon to $20 billion before it’s over. Not all those payments go to farmers. Groups on both the right and the left have criticized the crop insurance program for subsidizing insurance companies and largely benefiting corporate farms. (more…)
There are reports of a meeting between the FDA and several major food-supply corporations — Walmart, General Mills, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi-Frito Lay among them — at which the big businesses declared they would give up their fight against the GMO labeling movement. The meeting was first reported by Ronnie Cummins at AlterNet and has since been confirmed by Tom Laskawy at Grist who also confirms that a Walmart vice-president “did announce that the company would no longer take a lead in opposing GMO labeling efforts. Other food company executives agreed, saying that the fight had become too expensive, especially given the prospect of more state-level initiatives.”
Even if true, the news should be taken with a grain of salt. New labeling initiatives have sprung up since the defeat of California’s Proposition 37 and it may be, as Cummins and Laskawy suggest, that the corporations don’t think that money thrown against labeling is well spent. After all, it’s Monsanto and the other agri-engineering companies that benefit. (more…)
Did they think they could kill off the GMO food labeling efforts by beating it back in California? To the anti-GMO labeling forces, what’s happening must be like one of those horror films in which the monster is chopped to pieces and all the pieces rise up as a new monster. Several states are well on their way or have already introduced legislation to require GMO labeling. The latest is New Mexico. The bill, introduced by Senator Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, would require all foods that contain GMO ingredients be labeled as such as well as requiring all GMO produced livestock feed be labeled.
New Mexico isn’t alone. On January 3 of this year, supporter of a Washington State labeling Initiative submitted the 350,000 signatures necessary to get I-522 “The People’s Right To Know Genetically Engineered Food Act” on the next ballot. At least some 20 states have seen legislation introduced recently or host movements to require GMO labeling. See a list of them, with contact websites, here. In addition, Just Label It! continues to push the issue on the national level. (more…)
What GMOs mean to organic growers
By Bill Kohlhaase for Planet Natural
When U.S. District Judge for New York Naomi Buchwald threw out a lawsuit in February filed by The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) and dozens of other plaintiffs against the Monsanto Corporation, she struck a blow against organic growers, small farmers and concerned citizens across the country. The suit, filed in March of 2011 on behalf of organic farmers and seed growers by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBAT), was a preemptive measure designed to prohibit Monsanto from filing future lawsuit against growers whose fields may have inadvertently been contaminated by genetically-modified crops — known as GMOs — patented by Monsanto. This contamination can be caused by wind-carried seed, bird droppings, neighboring farmers losing seed in transport near a non-GMO field, or other unintended methods. Once Monsanto discovers its patented GMOs in a field where the plants volunteered even without the farmer’s knowledge, its legal team goes to work. (more…)
A study published in September calculates that the use of herbicide has increased some 527 million pounds in the period between 1996 and 2011. The study from Charles M. Benbrook of Washington State University’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources, blames the increase on the rise of GMO crops in the U.S.
The irony here, of course, is that the corporate manufacturers of GMO crops and their complementary herbicides have vehemently declared that GMO crops lead to a reduction in herbicide use. That argument, along with other spurious claims was used to defeat California’s Proposition 37, the GMO labeling initiative, in November. Read the abstract of the study here.
The study also concludes that after years of decline, pesticide use is also on the increase. Again, the reason is GMO use. Farmers who plant those herbicide and pesticide resistant crops have continually applied more of the substances to their fields as both weeds and insects adapt to the chemicals. (more…)
What to make of the defeat in California of Proposition 37, the GMO labeling initiative? When all across America, voters seemed to ignore the hundreds-of–millions of dollars thrown at important races by Super PACs and other unrestrained donations, the voters of California — or at least a significant percentage of them — took the onslaught of negative ads to heart.
One theory about this discrepancy says that the ads from Monsanto, Coca-Cola, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and others were just more effective due to the fact that, unlike groups of disgruntled billionaires, these overweight corporations were well experienced in advertising and public relations campaigns. Their ads were just plain more effective. Why? Maybe they weren’t all that honest. Then again, it’s not as if American voters aren’t familiar with misleading and deceptive political advertising. (more…)
California voters — and everyone else across the country — go to the polls Tuesday. Californians will cast a historic vote on whether or not to label the use of Genetically Modified Organisms in our foods. The question at hand is simple: should consumers have the right to know if the foods they buy contain GMOs? But the issue itself is not simple and has been clouded by a flood of anti-labeling ads broadcast across the state. As we and many others have stated before, it’s about more than just whether or not GMOs are harmful to humans (some decidedly are, the jury is still out on others). It’s about unbounded pesticide and herbicide use and the health of our environment, it’s about our willingness to accept monoculture and corporate control over the production of our food, it’s about the survival of heirloom, organic, sustainable and non-engineered crops and farming; it’s about our children; it’s about who owns and controls the very seeds we put in the ground.
The assault from chemical companies and big agri-food producers companies has been overwhelming. Monsanto alone has spent more than all the Proposition supporters combined. And the latest news isn’t good. A poll conducted by the California Business Roundtable and the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy finds the measure going down — it once led by a wide margin — with 39% in favor and 50% opposed. (more…)
Our friends in California report a barrage of anit-Prop 37 ads on their televisions, thanks to the big money donors who are so afraid that people might be honestly informed about an issue important to them and their families’ well-being. But despite their best efforts to nip this food-awareness thing in the bud, California’s Proposition 37, the GMO labeling bill, is starting to gain more national exposure, not exactly what Dow, Monsanto and the other chemical corporations fighting the proposition want. And that publicity focuses on what’s the most important issue to fans of organic food and gardening: the use of pesticides — the over-use of pesticides — in the fields that produce our basic crops.
Last Friday, Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stoneyfield Organic, author of the new book Label It Now: What You Need To Know About Genetically Engineered Foods appeared on the HBO series Real Time With Bill Maher. He did a great job explaining the GMO labeling issue and why it’s important, especially regarding the increased use of pesticides. We’d link but HBO knocks down videos of the discussion on YouTube almost as soon as they appear. And your concerned Planet Natural Blogger would never link you directly to HBO… they can do their own advertising. (more…)