Are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) a threat to organic agriculture? Are they dangerous, especially to newborns, when consumed? Do they lead to higher use of chemical herbicides and pesticides? And why aren’t they labeled so we know which foods are made with them? We find and discuss the latest news on the critical issue of GMOs.
As the election approaches, more and more news sources are taking an editorial stand on California’s Proposition 37, Mandatory Labeling of GMOs. Not surprisingly in a state in which corporate agriculture is such a big part of the economy, many California newspapers are coming out against the initiative. The attacks often follow the usual anti-initiative strategy, that its general purpose is a good one but that the proposition itself is badly written. The papers admit that knowledge is a good thing (the initiative will require products to reveal if they are genetically engineered or if any genetically engineered products are used in their making) but that passage of the proposition will encourage frivolous lawsuits against retailers, not producers (something of an assumption) from almost anyone who suspects that GMOs are included but not labeled in some product. In other words, a technicality, with the bogey-man of expensive, anti- small-business legal action (questionably) attached. Really? (more…)
We don’t mind admitting that honeycrisp apples, a fairly recent newcomer to the world of apples, is our favorite apple for just plain eating. Their tartness balanced with a suggestive sweetness and the snap that comes with biting into one make for one of fall’s great gastronomic experiences. The apple, developed at the University of Minnesota in 1960 and released to growers and consumers in 1994, also helps illustrate a common misconception regarding genetically-modified organisms and those developed through hybridization.
The honeycrisp was developed by cross-pollination of two previously known apples: the honeygold, itself a cross between the golden delicious and the honeygold, and the Macoun. While this process can happen naturally by the wind or various pollinators (like bees), the honeycrisp was given help. The trees that produced the honeycrisp were hybridized, much like some of the tomato seed you might have used in your garden (though these are nearly always “sterile” hybrids which do not produce “true” seed or seed that will result in the same hybrid… but they will self-pollinate to produce fruit). (more…)
Mark Bittman, The New York Times columnist recently wrote a blog post supporting California’s GMO labeling Prop 37. Nothing surprising there (you can read his column here). Of more interest is the response it brought from Gary Hirshberg of Stoneyfield Organic; you know, the yogurt people. Of course Hirshberg supports the measure. But he makes three outstanding points about the initiative and its (corporate) detractors.
First is that what Prop 37 proposes is already law in 50 other countries around the world. Again, no surprise there; we’ve heard all the European Union countries, as well as Russia and China (!) require GMO labeling or ban GMOs outright. His third point is also one we’re all aware of, a point especially important to organic gardeners and those who wish to keep their families safe: the use of GMOs has led to an explosion in the commercial application of pesticides. If you know someone who belittles your position against GMOs (“they won’t hurt you!”) be sure they understand this consequence of planting them. (more…)
The controversy generated by the Stanford organic study continues to grow. It didn’t take long for people to recognize that the study assembled data from tests for the wrong thing. But that hasn’t stopped supporters of agri-business, corporate food retailers and, yes, GMO-supporters from “we-knew-it-all-along” responses. The responses criticizing the study have served to underscore the genuine reasons we choose organics in the first place.
Worst of the anti-organics responses (“Organic, shmorganic,” it whimpers) comes from columnist Roger Cohen in The New York Times. It’s an obvious appeal for GMOs based on the logic that GMOs are better capable of feeding a starving world (not true, as studies have shown). And it also derides those who seek to protect their families from pesticides which the Stanford study suggests contaminate 37% of commercially-grown fruits and vegetables. And it bemoans the cost — “Organic is a fable for the pampered of the planet,” Cohen writes — while ignoring the fact that subsistence and small-farms make modest livings raising competitively-priced, pesticide-free produce while preserving — nay, improving! — soils, unlike large commercial food operations that deplete soils as they over-use pesticides and fertilizers that are harmful to our waters. Scroll down to the comments section of Cohen’s article and note what people have to say: there’s the “ha-ha” of organic detractors and then there’s the thoughtful arguments of organic supporters who mostly say that Cohen, by focusing his attack on nutrition and price, misses the whole point of organics. Also view The Times letters section addressing the Stanford study. Good stuff! (more…)
Via the Nation of Change website, we learn that Monsanto has contributed $4.2 million dollars to defeat California’s GMO labeling initiative. Makes sense. Monsanto holds the patents on a number of GMO crops, many designed to be resistant to Monsanto’s widely-used herbicide Roundup. It’s a slick way to double sales; you can use all the Roundup you want without hurting your crop if your crop is grown from Monsanto genetically-modified seed. Except… Super Weeds!
And speaking of Roundup… here’s a report on a study that found the active ingredient of the product — glyphosate — could cause birth defects. Do we really need genetically modified corn that’s resistant to a product that might damage fetuses in the womb?
This article isn’t necessarily anti-GMO but it does list anti-initiative contributions from a number of agri-business and chemical companies. And it makes a reasonable point: spending all that money to defeat the labeling initiative might make the public think the pro-GMO side has something to hide. Do they? (more…)
Those following the battle to pass California’s Initiative 37 — the bill that will require labeling GMO foods (do we really need to tell you what GMO means?) — will be interested to read The Cornucopia Institute’s report “Agribusinesses Owning Natural/Organic Brands Betray Customers: Fund Attack on GMO Labeling Proposal in California.” Some of those organic food product companies we all love (sorry) and (maybe) trust have joined with the anti-Prop 37 forces to defeat the initiative. Guess it’s the end of a beautiful love affair.
Some other interesting info in the report: 70% of the public supports labeling GMOs (a good thing); “new contributions to fight the measure [have] rolled in from the biotechnology industry and food manufacturers, totaling over $23 million, according to the California Secretary of State. This dwarfs the approximately $3 million contributed by proponents of GE labeling” (very bad news). The post has a chart that graphically shows who the players are. And if you scroll down a bit, on the right margin is an illustration that shows which politicians and government office holders (otherwise known as “public servants”) have direct connections to Monsanto. Sad fact there is it’s not so surprising. Anyway, go read the report. Knowledge is power. (more…)
Drought has been big news this summer, no more so than regarding its effect on America’s corn crop. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that it has put renewed emphasis on corn raised for energy production (ethanol) and the amount that goes into making high-fructose corn syrup with all its connections to obesity. The down side? What about genetically engineered corn that resists drought?
This article in The Washington Post and a related blog post on its “Wonk Blog” tells us something we might have guessed: Monsanto has developed a so-called drought resistant corn. We’re reminded of the dictum that’s been bandied about the last several years: Never let a good crisis go to waste. Monsanto, apparently, has taken that to heart. It goes without saying that the claim to drought resistance is something of a stretch.
A friend asks, “What’s the big deal? You’re an organic gardener.” (“As best I can,” I reply, knowing there are few absolutes in gardening). “Why don’t you grow what you need? You want to eat non-GMO corn? Eat the corn you grow. Don’t buy it in the store.”
If only it were that simple.
Yes, my friend, by being something of a know-it-all, shows how little he knows. The problems associated with GMOs are far more complicated than just avoiding their purchase. There are problems of cross-pollination of GMO crops with crops in our organic garden. There’s the loss of biodiversity. And, avoiding GMO products in our grocery stores is not as easy as he thinks it is. (more…)
While most of the GMO attention these days is focused on the upcoming vote on California’s “Right To Know” initiative, another GMO controversy has boiled to the surface, this time with apples. Okanagan Specialty Fruits corporation has developed a genetically modified apple — known as the “Arctic Apple” — that does not brown, or at least doesn’t brown as quickly, when exposed to the air. The fruits are also not as susceptible to bruising, a problem that results in apples being refused by buyers at both the distribution and consumer levels. The controversy has spread across British Columbia’s apple growing regions and now, with articles in The New York Times and other publications, is gaining more focus in America.
The Arctic apple, so far developed as Granny Smiths and Golden Delicious (Galas and Fujis are on the way), contain a synthetic gene that sharply reduces production of polyphenol oxidase, an enzyme responsible for the browning. The introduced gene is taken from the apple itself and then inhibits the production of genes that result in the browning agents. (more…)
It’s no surprise that Monsanto, Dupont and others are pouring big money into California to fight the state’s GMO labeling referendum which will be on the ballot November 6. How they’re doing it — through surrogate organizations — is right out of the grand American political tradition of ironically-named organizations. Front groups help hide the players behind these organizations. And what could be more ironic that hiding the identities of the companies and individuals who are fighting a right-to-know initiative?
AlterNet, the independent news gathering service, estimates that several big front groups will spend $60 to $100 million fighting the initiative. One of the largest is The Coalitition Against Costly Food Labeling. Their website lists such scary articles on topics including how GMO labeling will hurt the poor and limit your food choices. Who exactly is behind the CACFL? The names aren’t surprising. According to the article, it’s composed of the “Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), whose members also include Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow and Syngenta, all producers of GMO seed and related products, as well as many large food processors and supermarket chains. (more…)