Agricultural companies defend their stonewalling by saying that unrestricted research could make them vulnerable to lawsuits if an experiment somehow leads to harm, or that it could give competitors unfair insight into their products. But it's likely that the companies fear something else too: An experiment could reveal that a genetically engineered product is hazardous or doesn't perform as well as promised.
Whatever the reasons, the results are clear: Public sector research has been blocked. In 2009, 26 university entomologists — bug scientists — wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency protesting restricted access to seeds. The letter went public, but not most of the writers' identities. They were afraid of retaliation from the companies that might further hamper their research.
Even more than questionable approvals, it’s the unwillingness to label these products as such — even the G.E. salmon will be sold without distinction — that is demeaning and undemocratic, and the real reason is clear: producers and producer-friendly agencies correctly suspect that consumers will steer clear of G.E. products if they can identify them. Which may make them unprofitable. Where is the free market when we need it?
A majority of our food already contains G.M.O.’s, and there’s little reason to think more isn’t on the way. It seems our “regulators” are using us and the environment as guinea pigs, rather than demanding conclusive tests. And without labeling, we have no say in the matter whatsoever.
Many agricultural pesticides – including some previously untested and commonly found in food – disrupt male hormones, according to new tests conducted by British scientists. The researchers strongly recommended that all pesticides in use today be screened to check if they block testosterone, which is critical to men’s and boys’ reproductive health. Thirty out of 37 pesticides tested by the University of London altered male hormones, including 16 that had no known hormonal activity until now. Most are fungicides applied to fruit and vegetable crops, including strawberries and lettuce. “This study indicates that, not surprisingly, there are many other endocrine disruptors that we have not yet identified or know very little about,” said Emily Barrett, a University of Rochester scientist who was not involved in the study. The findings come as the EPA faces opposition from the pesticide industry after expanding its Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, which requires testing of about 200 chemicals found in food and drinking water to see if they interfere with estrogen, androgens or thyroid hormones.
With a loss of up to $800 per tonne and a minimum five-year wait before Marsh's crops can be recertified ''organic'', compensation could be big. Except that the defendant will be bankrolled by that shady agro-giant, that food-world Voldemort, Monsanto.
Morally, if not legally, the case draws on the 1990s precedent of a Saskatchewan farmer, Percy Schmeiser. Schmeiser had spent 40 years perfecting his own canola hybrids when Monsanto genes were detected through 80 per cent of his crop. Far from compensating Schmeiser for the loss of a life's work, Monsanto decided aggression was the best form of defence and sued him, as it had hundreds of others, for unlicensed gene-use.
Immaterial, argued Monsanto, that the genes might have been wind or bee-propagated. They were illegally in his plants, and he should pay; $400,000, to be exact. This patentability of subsistence crops is a real evil; not just because individuals get screwed, but because it privatises a commons.
Bob ScowcroftBob Scowcroft in 2008, in one of his signature shirts.Photo: Bart NagelAfter nearly three decades at the center of organic food and farming world, Bob Scowcroft recently retired as head of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). Scowcroft was California Certified Organic Farmers' first executive director in 1987, then went on to cofound and lead the OFRF for two decades. OFRF has played a key role on two fronts -- advocating for organic farming research and pushing for a state, and then national, organic law.
For decades, Americans believed that we had the world’s healthiest and safest diet. We worried little about this diet’s effect on the environment or on the lives of the animals (or even the workers) it relies upon. Nor did we worry about its ability to endure — that is, its sustainability.
Here are some ideas — frequently discussed, but sadly not yet implemented — that would make the growing, preparation and consumption of food healthier, saner, more productive, less damaging and more enduring.
As I reported last week, the USDA announced late Thursday it would allow the planting of genetically modified alfalfa, the nation's fourth-largest crop, without restriction. Was the decision based on a careful weighing of the evidence by the USDA -- or on political consideration emanating from the White House?
When organic farmer Michael O'Gorman read in 2006 that a disproportionate number of military veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan came from America's rural communities, it was a call to action.
A country boy himself, he arranged a meeting with five other California farmers, and together they hatched a plan to recruit returning veterans for careers in the organic farming industry. Thus began the Farmer-Veteran Coalition, now based in Davis, an organization as committed to supporting the troops as they are to growing a new green economy. The coalition is hosting a seminar at the Ecological Farming Conference this week in Pacific Grove.
In the latest issue of the Journal of Dairy Science, a new study funded by the European Union compared the fat composition of retail milk produced through conventional methods and milk produced using an organic approach. The findings suggest that organic milk provides greater health benefits to humans than ordinary milk.
Specifically, the study indicated that organic milk has much higher concentrations of beneficial and nutritionally desirable fatty acids than milk from conventional production systems. Additionally, organic milk was found to contain lower levels of harmful saturated fat. Although the overall fat content was similar in both types of milk tested, the organic milk showed evidence of more "healthy" fats.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced plans to allow commercial planting of Forage Genetics International’s (FGI) Glyphosate-Tolerant Alfalfa genetically engineered to tolerate St. Louis-based Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide without any federal requirements to prevent contamination of the rest of alfalfa seed and plantings. The genetically engineered technology is licensed exclusively to the seed maker FGI by Monsanto. The expected impact of this decision is far reaching, particularly to organic farmers.
“This creates a perplexing situation when the market calls for a supply of crops free of genetic engineering. The organic standards prohibit the use of genetic engineering, and consumers will not tolerate the accidental presence of genetic engineered materials in organic products yet GE crops continue to proliferate unchecked,” said Christine Bushway, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association (OTA).