I recently watched “OMG GMO,” Jeremy Seifert’s aggressively uninformed “documentary” about the corporate duplicity and governmental callousness that he says drives the production of genetically engineered crops—which are, in his view, such barely concealed poisons that he actually dressed his children in full hazmat gear before letting them enter a field of genetically modified corn. Seifert explained his research process in an interview with Nathanael Johnson of Grist: “I didn’t really dig too deep into the scientific aspect.”
Fair enough. Normally, I would ignore anyone who would say that while publicizing his movie. But Seifert has been abetted by Dr. Mehmet Oz, the patron saint of internally inconsistent scientific assertions, and Seifert’s message of fear and illiteracy has now been placed before millions of television viewers.
Seifert asserts that the scientific verdict is still out on the safety of G.M. foods—which I guess it is, unless you consult actual scientists. He fails to do that. Instead, he claims that the World Health Organization is one of many groups that question the safety of genetically engineered products. However, the W.H.O. has been consistent in its position on G.M.O.s: “No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of G.M. foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”
Authorities were investigating a new suspected case of crop contamination on Thursday – the second in the Pacific north-west in five months – after samples of hay tested positive for genetically modified traits.
The investigation was ordered after a farmer in Washington state reported that his alfalfa shipments had been rejected for export after testing positive for genetic modification. Results were expected as early as Friday.
If confirmed, it would be the second known case of GM contamination in a major American crop since May, when university scientists confirmed the presence of a banned GM wheat growing in a farmer’s field in Oregon.
The suspected outbreak comes in the run-up to a ballot measure in Washington state that would require mandatory labelling of all GM foods.
Alfalfa is America’s fourth largest crop, behind corn, wheat and soybeans, and the main feedstock for the dairy industry. A confirmed case of contamination could hurt the organic dairy industry, which is now worth $26bn a year, forcing farmers to find new sources of GM-free feed. It could also hurt a growing export industry. Alfalfa is increasingly sold for export but buyers, such as Japan, do not want GM products.
Campaigners said the suspected case of contamination provided further evidence of the difficulties of containing GM crops.
“It’s telling that these things keep happening repeatedly,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney at the Center for Food and Safety in Portland, Oregon. “It’s a systemic problem. We have a failed regulatory system for these crops.”
Thousands on Kauai marched the streets to show their support of the “Right to Know” Bill, a bill that would require agricultural companies working with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to disclose the chemicals they’re using and take extra steps to keep the chemicals contained.
It’s a volatile debate. One side is arguing business and development, the other side health and safety.
The bill is going to its second hearing Monday in front of the county’s Economic Development and Agricultural committee, where changes could be made before a final city council vote on the measure.
Roads were shut down as nearly 2,000 people marched in the streets from Vidinha Stadium to the Historic County Building, the place where the Right To Know Bill will go before a committee hearing Monday morning.
“We’re united. This is exactly what they didn’t want to happen,” a community activist at the Mana March said.
They rallied to send this message to the agricultural corporations that are reportedly testing new pesticides and GMO technologies on Kauai agricultural land.
“If you like poison, poison your own place. If you like experiment, experiment on your own family,” activists said.
Many said they have had enough and are concerned about the health effects the chemicals are having on their families, and the environmental impacts that the pesticides may have for generations to come.
Much attention has been turned in recent months to the fact that the agro-chemical/GMO industry — corporate giants Dow, Pioneer DuPont, Syngenta, Monsanto, BASF — have been using Hawaii since the 1990s as one of their main testing grounds for experiments engineering new pesticide-crop combos. On the “Garden Island” of Kauai, the industry controls over 15,000 acres of prime agricultural land, which they drench with over 17 tons of restricted-use pesticides each year, and likely at least five times that amount in non-restricted pesticides that may be equally as harmful (such as glyphosate).
Because genetically engineered seeds are most typically designed to be used in conjunction with specific pesticides, the development of new GE crops (or at least the types the industry is choosing to develop) requires repeated applications of these chemicals and their mixing into new toxic cocktails with unknown consequences. From a lawsuit, we know that Pioneer DuPont alone has used 90 pesticide formulations with 63 active ingredients in the past 6 years. They apply these pesticides around 250 (sometimes 300) days each year, with 10-16 applications per day on average. The amount of pesticides used on the island by these operations makes the corn fields in Kansas look organic.
Pesticides are sprayed next to schools, hospitals, neighborhoods and major waterways, with zero buffer zone and zero public knowledge of what is being sprayed and when it will happen. Preliminary evidence suggests that living in the shadow of these companies may be causing alarming rates of rare birth defects and cancers.
GRANTS PASS, Ore. » Oregon farmers are moving ahead with plans to start planting their next crop as questions remain about the source of a patch of genetically modified wheat found in a farmer’s field there last spring that threatened trade between the Pacific Northwest and other countries.
Speculation about the origin of the unapproved wheat discovered in northeastern Oregon ranges from saboteurs to a passing flock of geese. The U.S Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said Friday their investigation is ongoing.
Grass Valley wheat farmer Darren Padget says they may never know for sure, but he and other farmers are going ahead with plans to start planting winter wheat in mid-September.
“It’s one of those things where you just scratch your head,” the Oregon Wheat Commission member said as he loaded another truck with seed wheat to haul to a supplier for the local farmers’ co-op. “Everybody’s talking about seeding. We had rains through here the other day that will make seeding conditions good.”
Blake Rowe, the commission’s CEO, said although Asian buyers stopped placing orders for a couple of months, the overall economic impact has been minimal, and markets are back to normal.
Japan, South Korea and Taiwan all resumed placing orders for Northwest wheat after tests failed to turn up any that was genetically modified.
The Japanese government tested 1.2 million metric tons of U.S. wheat for GMO material without finding any, according to the trade group U.S. Wheat Associates.
“The customers came back before the harvest was really finished,” Rowe said from his Portland office. “It didn’t really interfere too much with the movement of wheat.”
If there is any more genetically modified wheat growing, farmers won’t know until spring.
Fields that grow wheat this winter will be sprayed with herbicides after harvest in the spring, so they can lie fallow for a year. Any wheat growing after it has been sprayed is likely to have been genetically modified to survive herbicides, which makes it easier to grow.
That’s how the rogue strain was discovered.
This online version corrects that Bill 2491 would not stop the commercial production of GMO crops, but rather place a temporary moratorium on the experimental use and commercial production of GMOs until the county has completed an environmental impact statement.
LIHUE — The Kauai County Council unanimously voted to move forward a bill that would allow the county to govern the use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms on the island.
During his closing remarks, Councilman Tim Bynum, who co-introduced Bill 2491 along with Councilman Gary Hooser, described the issue as “serious.”
“We’re talking about people’s lives, people’s livelihoods,” he said. “There are very sincere and passionate people on both sides.”
At 9:30 p.m. Wednesday — after roughly six hours of testimony from dozens of local residents and biotech company employees — the council approved the bill on first reading, sending it to a public hearing July 31.
A location for the hearing is not confirmed. Council Chair Jay Furfaro said he would be looking for a place able to accommodate a larger crowd. About 1,000 attended Wednesday’s meeting but only roughly 100 at a time were allowed in the council chambers.
During his eight years as a state senator (2002-2010), Hooser said he worked on many different and important issues.
“I think at the end of the day this will be the most important one that I’ve worked on, and maybe will work on,” he said. “It has tangible impacts to people’s lives and to our environment.”
The bill calls for Kauai’s largest agricultural corporations — namely DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, DOW AgroSciences, BASF and Kauai Coffee — to disclose the use of pesticides and the presence of GMO crops. It would also establish pesticide-free buffer zones around public areas and waterways, ban open-air testing of experimental crops and place a temporary moratorium on the commercial production of GMOs, until the county can conduct an environmental impact statement on the industry’s effects on Kauai.
Hooser believes the issue will never be resolved by the state Legislature, which is why he has chosen to fight it at the county level.
The court unanimously rejected farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman’s argument that he was not violating Monsanto’s patent because the company’s pesticide-resistent “Roundup Ready” soybeans replicate themselves. Justice Elena Kagan said there is no such “seeds-are-special” exception to the law.
“We think that blame-the-bean defense tough to credit,” Kagan wrote. “Bowman was not a passive observer of his soybeans’ multiplication; or put another way, the seeds he purchased (miraculous though they might be in other respects) did not spontaneously create eight successive soybean crops.”
She added: “Bowman devised and executed a novel way to harvest crops from Roundup Ready seeds without paying the usual premium.”
While the case was about soybeans, the broader issue of patent protection is important to makers of vaccines, software and other products. Corporations were worried about what might happen if the decision had gone the other way.
But, as the justices had indicated at oral arguments in the case, they believed Bowman’s practices threaten the incentive for invention that is at the heart of patent law.
If someone could copy Monsanto’s product, “a patent would plummet in value after the first sale of the first item containing the invention,” Kagan wrote. “And that would result in less incentive for innovation than Congress wanted.”
You may have run across this article “10 Reasons We Don’t Need GM Foods” on the FoodConsumer website. It’s been making its rounds on social media (Facebook and Twitter). I would like to address some of the inaccuracies in this article – point by point:
1. GM foods won’t solve the food crisis
Well, surprisingly enough, I agree with this one. Or at least with the statement: GM foods ALONE won’t solve the food crisis. GM foods and genetically engineered (GE) crops aren’t a silver bullet in resolving problems with food security. I refer to Mark Lynas (former Greenpeace activist and author) who said in a recent talk he gave at Cornell University:
“[GE/GM] cannot build better roads or chase away corrupt officials. But surely seeds which deliver higher levels of nutrition, which protect the resulting plant against pests without the need for expensive chemical inputs, and which have greater yield resilience in drought years are least worth a try?” Mark Lynas (April 2013)
Hey, I’d say so. It is important to note that the introduction of GE crops (in particular) has enabled wider adoption of “no-till” farming (see a farmer’s perspective on this). No-till is a system which conserves soil moisture, prevents erosion, dramatically reduces nutrient and pesticide movement to streams and rivers, and reduces fuel use. All good, in my opinion.
Did you know that if we still farmed using the inputs and techniques that we did in the 1950s, we would need 2 billion more hectares available to produce what we produce today?
Kaua‘i seed farmers want to set the record straight about how they farm. In today’s edition of The Garden Island, they rolled out a new ad campaign breaking common myths about their farming practices and the seed industry. The ad says they want to in inform, educate and maintain a dialogue with friends and neighbors on Kaua‘i.
One of the myths addressed is the claim that seed farmers are experimenting with chemicals. Kaua‘i seed farmers say they “DO NOT develop or test chemicals. Our job is to improve crops for farmers around the world through plant breeding and growing seed.
We check our fields daily to determine if there are pests. Only if the number of pests would likely hurt the yield and quality of seed, and if there are no other appropriate control options, do we use a pesticide. We only use federally and state approved pesticide on specific crops, and we only use them when necessary and in amounts specified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to control weeds, insects and diseases.”
(Click the image below for full size)