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Jan 202014

First Cheerios went nonGMO. Now, just two weeks later, that classic crunchy breakfast tummy-filler Grape Nuts has announced its Non-GMO certification.

GrapeNutsGrape Nuts, like Cheerios, didn’t have far to go. The venerable breakfast cereal, circa 1897, is made mainly from whole wheat and barley, which are not GMO-crops (wheat has been genetically modified, but it hasn’t made it into commercial production yet).

So in practical terms, not much changes. Post Cereals will have to source the small amount of soy protein in the cereal from non-GMO soybeans, or it can back the soy back out. This is what it’s doing with the Grape-Nuts Vintage, which brings back the old non-soy formula.

Some are asking, is this just a cheap appeal to consumers worried about GMOs to try to bolster a brand? Um, yeah. Obviously, it‘s pretty easy to get the certification when the product contains virtually no genetically modified ingredients.

But the end result of this move by Post could still be big. For starters, Grape-Nuts consumers won’t have to worry that genetic tinkering will deleteriously affect their intestines or raise their risk of cancer, two of several problems that GMO critics say could be the result of eating foods engineered to resist or produce their own pesticides.

Is Post is playing a hand? You bet. You only need to check out the long list of Non-GMO cereals at the NonGMO Project to see that mainline cereal brands have some stout competition these days. Whole Foods Market’s 365 Everyday, Barbara’s, Natures Path, Crofter’s Organic, Eden Foods – they all have entire lines of breakfast cereals that are GMO-free, and many are organic too.

Still this toe-dipping, self-serving move by Post should thrill health-conscious consumers and environmentalists because it brings more attention to the vastly under-studied and shifty matter of genetic modification of our staple crops.

Not only does it bring awareness to consumers in the mainline cereal aisle (where let’s face it, prices typically trump conscious consuming), it sends a little warning bell to farmers on the GM-hamster wheel that non-GMO ingredients are getting a teensy more valuable.

This all furthers the non-GMO movement.

Sure, it would be more helpful if Post kicked genetically modified ingredients out of cereals more deeply invested in GMOs, like Blueberry Morning or Golden Crisp, which both contain corn syrup that’s almost certainly from GM corn.

But for now, Post can test the market with non-GMO Grape-Nuts. They’ll mostly be preaching to the choir. Grape-Nuts is one of the healthiest cereals around with an impressive 8 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber and only 5 grams of sugar per ½ cup serving. But if Post can kick new life into this brand, a lot of people could be better for it.

Nov 072013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Not all the votes are counted yet in the battle to label genetically modified (GM) foods in Washington state. But the initiative is trailing, 45 percent in favor to 55 percent opposed, and appears headed for defeat.

Yes on 522 logo

Voters in Washington state appear to have said No to the I-522 campaign to label genetically modified foods.

If it fails, I-522 would be the second citizen effort to label genetically modified foods to be shot down in a fusillade of campaign money from big corporations like Monsanto, Dupont, Pepsico and other major food companies, as well as the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). These groups spent $22 million to defeat the Washington measure, outspending the proponents for the measure by 3 to 1, according to news reports.

The opposition to the labeling measure ran campaign ads telling consumers that labeling would add hundreds of dollars to their grocery bills. That  falsehood also helped defeat a similar labeling initiative put before the voters in California one year ago.

The prospect of paying more for groceries appears to work well as a scare tactic, even though commonsense tells us that labeling foods should not add significant costs to grocery bills. Major food corporations already label their products for the 60 nations around the world that require labeling for GMO ingredients. They also print significant nutritional information about their products on the label as required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Proponents of labeling say it is important so that consumers can choose to buy, or avoid, products made with genetically modified foods. GMOs, also known as genetically engineered (GE) foods are genetically modified, and some people believe they’ve not been proven to be safe. Another complaint against GMO crops is that they’re typically engineered to sustain applications of certain pesticides, raising questions about whether that modification affects humans who consume these foods.

The FDA has pronounced many varieties of GMO crops — corn, soybeans and sugar beets, to name a few — to be safe and substantially similar to their non-modified cousins. But some outside research suggests these foods could have harmful health effects, and also that reliance on GMO crops has resulted in higher use of pesticides.

The coalition of food companies that opposed the I-522 labeling proposal called it “deceptive” and said it would cost consumers at the grocery store. “This is a clear victory for Washington consumers, taxpayers and family farmers across our state,” said Dana Bieber, spokesperson for No on 522, in a statement Tuesday evening. “Washington voters have soundly rejected this badly written and deceptive initiative.”

Ocean Robbins, son of Food Revolution author John Robbins, wrote today that the Washington battle pitted outside interests against local residents and businesses.

“Exactly $550 of the “no” campaign’s dollars came from inside Washington State.  This was a classic example of out-of-state corporate interests pouring massive money into maintaining control of our food systems,” he wrote in a blog on The Food Revolution Network website.

He also called out the food corporations for misleading consumers by telling them that labeling would come at a high price. The No on 522 ads “told consumers that this initiative would increase food prices by an average of $350-$400 per family per year. But Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) determined that this statement was untrue, and that this initiative would not raise the price of food.”

It appears that labeling movement deeply threatens major food manufacturers, not so much because they’d have to stamp a label on their packages — something that would cost very little, but because they fear a stampede away from GMO foods, which have become interwoven into hundreds of products in thousands of grocery stores across the U.S.

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media


Sep 182013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

A demonstration for labeling at the White House last year.

A demonstration for labeling at the White House.

There’s plenty of evidence that Americans favor requiring labels for genetically modified (GM) foods. They’ve gathered support for labeling in several state legislatures,  contacted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by the millions and told pollsters they want to know if their food’s been genetically modified.

One oft-cited poll found that about 90 percent of American voters favor labeling for GM foods.

Responding to this public concern, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)  introduced a bill in April that would require labeling of GM foods, also known as genetically engineered (GE) foods or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

“At the very least, the FDA should require genetically engineered foods be properly labeled. There’s no consumer choice when people cannot determine what’s in their food. Mandatory labeling would bring the U.S. in line with nearly 50 other countries including China and Russia,” DeFazio said.

And it’s not just other large industrial nations. Belarus has labeling. So do Bulgaria, Bolivia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to The Center for Food Safety.

In the U.S., GE foods have been rising on the public radar, amid periodic reports that they could raise the risk of illness among consumers. Food safety groups worry that GE crops also foster excessive applications of pesticides because many are engineered to work in tandem with a certain pesticide or produce their own pesticide.

Boxer and DeFazio’s bill, The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, attracted 39 co-sponsors in the House and 13 co-sponsors in the Senate and laid out a detailed definition of GM and GE foods that wades fearlessly into the science.

GE and GM foods are created by “in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles,” and are made with techniques that “overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombinant barriers” and “are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection,” the bill declared.

Getting the definition right is critical, so that food and seed manufacturers would know exactly which foods would need labeling.

The bill elaborated on the rationale for labeling:

The process of genetically engineering food organisms results in material changes to food derived from those organisms . . .individuals in the United States have a right to know if their food was produced with genetic engineering for a variety of reasons, including health, economic, environmental, religious, and ethical.”

The right to know aspect of food labeling has resonated strongly with voters. According to a 2012 survey of 1,000 Americans by the Mellman Group, 93 percent of Democrats, 90 percent of Independents and 89 percent of Republicans favor food labeling for GMOs.

So why has the Boxer/DeFazio bill not moved out of committee in the House or the Senate?

Roadblock Number One: Congress

Congress-is-genetically-contaminated-by-MonsantoLike many bills, the GE Food Right-to-Know Act, has been a victim of the general inertia of bills in Congress. The website Gov.track, which follows legislation, gives the U.S. labeling bill just a 6 percent chance of getting past committee in the House and 2 percent in the Senate.

That’s partly based on general statistics. Only 11 percent of bills overall made it past the committee stage in Congress in the past two years.

And in fairness, in a world facing crises over Syria, the U.S. budget, healthcare and a host of other issues, one can see why food labeling might end up on the wait list.

But inertia isn’t the whole story. Many in Congress lean toward helping big companies like Monsanto, the creator of the majority of the world’s genetically modified seeds.

Just this year, Congress twice enacted a widely derided bill nicknamed “The Monsanto Protection Act,” which shields giant seed and chemical companies from lawsuits over genetically modified foods. The measure has been attached to the continuing budget resolution as a “rider”; but that hasn’t appeased groups that see this as one more sign that Monsanto wields more power in the Capitol than the American public.

Critics of the Monsanto Protection Act also say it may even violate the U.S. Constitution by protecting companies that should, like everyone else, be subject to judicial review.

Roadblock Number Two: There’s no smoking gun


A study in France produced an outcry (among pro- and anti-GE groups) when it reported that rats fed GE corn and/or RoundUp-tinged water developed tumors.

Even though many people support labeling, it’s easy to see how the GE food issue drifts along defying decisive action.

The potential dangers from GMOs aren’t well understood. GE foods may not be dangerous, or they could be exacting long-term health costs that we’ll deeply regret a decade from now. As one food safety critic pointed out, it stands to reason that a corn variety that produces it’s own insect-killing toxin might have health effects on whomever eats it.

A few independent studies with lab animals or studying livestock that have been fed GE crops have shown that these foods may contribute to gastrointestinal disorders or even trigger tumors. There’s a hint of a problem with fertility in some of the farm animals. But this work is far from having reached any scientific consensus.

Exacerbating the lack of public information is the process of approving GE foods in which the companies creating them perform the majority of the experiments testing their safety. Manufacturers submit reports summarizing their results to the FDA and the USDA and EPA, the other agencies involved in approving GE crops. (The USDA oversees livestock feed, the EPA, pesticides.) The government itself does only a smattering of original research and the details of industry’s self-administered testing are considered proprietary because of the patents involved.

Paradoxically, this dearth of independent research and transparency, which critics read as a sure sign that more research is needed, has left the issue in limbo. If there are health threats that demand an urgent response — like perhaps labeling? — we Americans have inadequate information.

By contrast, the countries around the world that have demanded labeling operate on the precautionary principle, which contends that what we don’t know could hurt us. They label it because they don’t know enough about these foods.

Roadblock Number Three: The seed/chemical/food juggernaut

In the absence of an obvious immediate threat to Americans’ health, which would make them look as if they were pushing something toxic, an alliance of seed/chemical and food companies has erected a well-funded wall of opposition to labeling that buttresses the status quo.

Even though these same food companies already have to meet labeling or special regulatory requirements in more than 60 other countries, they fear labeling requirements in the U.S. would unfairly single them out.

Here’s the argument they made when California voters petitioned for labeling last year: Labeling would cause consumers to be concerned about genetically modified foods, and this would be unfair because genetically modified foods are substantially the same as conventionally grown foods.

Roadblock Number Four: The FDA

Technically, the big food and chemical companies are right. In the early 1990s, the Food and Drug Administration declared GMOs to be “substantially” the same as their unmodified counterparts.

"Substantial equivalence" = corn is corn is corn.

Is it GE corn? Doesn’t matter. “Substantial equivalence” = corn is corn is corn,  according to the FDA.

So officially GMOs — transgenic, pesticide-infused or pesticide-resistant — are no different than other foods. No label needed. End of story.

Except, the critics note, that the FDA reached this conclusion by relying on industry studies (see Roadblock #2),  and hasn’t done due diligence to assure the safety of GMOs. (Here’s one academic report about that.)

This adoption of the “substantial equivalence” test (or non-test) has endured, apparently, because it serves the interests of the big seed and chemical companies, and they in turn assure its continuation by serving at the FDA in a government/business revolving door phenomenon that seems impervious to periodic scathing public criticism.

Substantial equivalence has enabled the FDA to approve a growing inventory of GMO foods over the decades, including a handful of fruits and vegetables in addition to many varieties of GE corn, soy, sugar beets and newer genetically modified crops, like alfalfa, that seemed to be doing just fine without pesticides and genetic modification.

Labeling would stab at the heart of the FDA’s core reason support of GMOs, by calling these foods out as different, not “equivalent.”

Yet foods have many other labels that set them apart from competitors, say labeling proponents, including the USDA Organic certification, and a host of voluntary labels, like Humanely Raised, Rainforest Alliance Certified and, as it happens, a GMO-free label.

The nascent, voluntary NonGMO label assists consumers in making decisions. Still, food advocates want a government-sanctioned program in place to label GM foods, erasing the gray areas. They have challenged biotech, chemical and food companies to step out from behind the opacity, taunting them to label their products if they’re proud of them.

Roadblock Number Five: The seed/chemical/food juggernaut’s massive wallet

In 2012, Californians launched a voter referendum, Prop 37, for labeling. But they narrowly lost after an alliance of biotech, food and grocery groups campaigned vigorously against the measure, arguing that it would raise the price of groceries by $400 per person annually and that it would trigger lawsuits and a costly vast bureaucracy.

Pro-labeling forces promised none of that was true, noting that food companies already label them for export to the countries that mandate labeling.

Each side accused the other of fear-mongering. But the “No” group had deeper pockets and generated more TV advertising.

Monsanto, DuPont, Pepsico, BASF CropScience, Bayer CropScience, Dow, Syngenta, Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola, Nestle, General Mills, Kellogg’s, ConAgra, Campbell’s Soup and others — spent $45.6 million to defeat Prop 37 in November 2012, compared with $8.7 million spent by the labeling proponents.

Rep. Defazio

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) favors labeling of genetically engineered foods.

It’s part of a pattern. Oregon’s DeFazio, who’s pushed for labeling and better evaluation of GE foods for several years, says “nothing has changed at the policy level because Monsanto, Kellogg’s, and other major companies spent over $40 million fighting the California ballot initiative and spend millions each year lobbying lawmakers in Congress to block the labeling of genetically engineered foods.” (Monsanto alone spent nearly $6 million lobbying Congress in 2012.)

Together, these global food corporations produce hundreds of cereals, snack foods, frozen dinners, dressings, sodas and baked goods that are made with GM corn, soy and sugar beet crops that have been engineered by the biotech firms  (Monsanto, DuPont and others).

About 90 percent of the corn and 95 percent of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified, so food products are full of GMOs.

Check almost any processed food label and you’re likely to see corn meal, corn solids, corn syrup or High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) or soy, soy protein and soybean oil. Unless they’re organic, they’re mostly likely genetically modified and the foods containing them would require a label if states or the federal government required disclosure.

The change might not be costly in terms of printing a new label, but it could be profound.

If food companies wanted to offer GE-free foods they’ve have to reconfigure many recipes and seek out non-GE suppliers who might not exist.

Genetically modified ingredients are in hundreds of foods.

Genetically modified ingredients are in hundreds of processed foods; but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be labeled, say pro-label groups.

Labeling could push the seed/chemical/food/Big Ag juggernaut to reconfigure how it makes the sausage (or rather, the toaster pastries).

It could even give ground to GE-free, pesticide-shunning organic production.

The tectonic plates known as “market share” could shift. Oh my.

And so it’s not surprising to see this alliance lining up to oppose another major food labeling referendum, this one to be decided by Washington state voters this November.

Monsanto, Dupont and the Grocery Manufacturers Association have already contributed about $12 million to defeat that law, known as I-522.

But the pro-labeling forces may be better situated this time too.

They’ve already hit back against the expected barrage of claims from opponents that labeling will make groceries cost more, releasing a report showing it won’t.

“Food manufacturers are constantly refreshing their labels to highlight new innovations, so simply adding the words “may contain genetically engineered ingredients” to the back of the package will not add to the cost of making food,” said Scott Faber, executive director for Just Label It and formerly vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

The Yes on 522 forces also are emphasizing how the measure will help Washington businesses such as the wheat, salmon and apple industry. Noting that exports of these foods depend upon them remaining GE-free, information gets ahead of the tactic used by anti-labeling forces in California that pitted consumers against growers.

Yes on 522“There are hundreds of businesses in Washington state and throughout the country that are very supportive of labeling and their customers right to know,” said Elizabeth Larter, communications director for the Yes on 522 campaign. She noted that while the California measure narrowly failed (51-49 percent), it also raised the profile for labeling.

An incident earlier this year in Oregon underscored that point. When Monsanto’s GE wheat turned up in an Oregon field unbeckoned, major U.S. wheat importers (Japan, South Korea and Taiwan) suspended their wheat buys fearing additional contamination.

That incident aside, the anti-labeling No on 522 campaign is arguing that labeling will hurt farmers and food producers, hitting them with “more red No on 522tape” and higher production costs. They paint I-522 as costly and full of “special interest exemptions” that would make it hard to determine which foods contain GE ingredients.

The battle in Washington will be well watched. If the labeling groups win it could provide the tipping point that politicians need to institute labels more broadly. Several state legislatures have pending labeling laws, and a win would surely embolden advocates.

Washington, in other words, could send a signal to Washington.

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network


Jul 022013

(This is a blog/opinion piece. Our other work is news. Please like us on Facebook.)

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Look for green living news on any given day and you can easily find doom or hope.

Today, I read stories about the widening dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, the result of massive fertilizer run off; huge bee die-offs in Canada  and Oregon, linked respectively to neonicotinoids and a pesticide known as Safari.

dead bee shutterstock_94126963 -- Pollinator.CAThere was yet another story blaming the world’s best-selling herbicide, RoundUp, for cancers and fertility problems near soy bean fields in South America and a report about a soybean field that had turned brown where RoundUp had been used to kill off the chaff of the previous year’s crop of alfalfa.


Yes, I was researching the effects of pesticides, a topic that’s literally about zapping living things. Even so, the scope of this slow-motion disaster in which we’re killing our soil and possibly ourselves quickly became a muddy mire. The negative outcomes are overwhelming. It’s like a comically dark soap opera. Will Mary Jane get IBS, along with everyone else who eats genetically modified foods? Will GMOs trigger or worsen Jason’s autism? (or allergies? Parkinsons? MS? Kidney disease?). Tune over the next two decades while our friendly mega-corporations tinker around.

But there’s hope. The drumbeat to take back our food system from the corporations that many see as failing to protect our health is getting louder.

Grow Food, sign in London

Urban gardens are springing up everywhere. This hive of green activity is in London.

Several groups are working the battlefront, strategizing to push the Big Ag and Big Biotech companies into the open and force unbiased research on the effects of modern, industrial food growing methods. instead of taking the word of the manufacturer’s whose research has been kept secret.

(This is the absurd reality: Corporation X wants to make a pesticide and sell seeds that produce plants resistant to that pesticide. It submits a study showing that the pesticide and the associated seeds and the food produced are all A-OK, and the federal agencies overseeing Corp. X, say “Great!” go forth and prosper. Outside groups cannot see this study, however, because it would violate Corp. X’s patents.)

These groups bucking the system include a few large, established advocacies like Food & Water Watch and the Environmental Working Group, which work on Capitol Hill, educating lawmakers about how cleaner, healthier foods can “feed the world” and nurture (instead of destroying) the health of Americans.

They have been joined in recent years by dozens of farmer’s groups and even gardening associations that advocate for cleaner agriculture. To name just a couple: Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, which famously sued Monsanto for threatening the purity of organic farms and the National Sustainable Agriculture Association  (which believes sustainable agriculture is in everyone’s best interest because it preserves arable land).

Others in the fight to retrieve a democratic seed and food system include several recently formed grassroots groups, like March Against Monsanto, Occupy Monsanto, Millions Against Monsanto (I’m picking up a trend), Babes Against Biotech and Grow Food Not Lawns. These groups represent an angry slice of U.S. citizenry that sees food choices slipping away. They’re also activist organizations that promote marching, calling policy makers or working to shift paradigms, like converting your unproductive turf yard to a productive garden.

They keep growing — MAM instigated a huge show of force prompting marches around the world in May. Grow Food Not Lawns has found a large following on Facebook in just the year since it formed.

Without actually dwelling on the rationale, many Americans seemingly see they must depend upon themselves to make changes. They cannot count on politicians to act on their behalf, but must rally the masses to the cause. This has always been the case, but social media may be hastening the coalescence.

The message appears to be spreading. Bills to label genetically modified foods have been proposed in several states (I’d say more than 20 but the numbers keep shifting and the bills are weirdly tentative, like the ones in New England that will start if other states start), which suggests that some local politicians are attuned to the issue.

Even as labeling (which will help consumers better choose safer foods) lurches forward uncertainly, the grow food movement is clearly blossoming, reverberating around the world, even, resonating with everyone from hobby growers to those who want to make a political statement or take their families “off line.”

It’s intuitive. People are repulsed by the packaged, nutritiously vacant food filling an increasingly larger proportion of the grocery shelves and they are seeking alternatives.

It’s why Farmer’s Markets have doubled in a decade in the U.S..

Even Aristotle knew food was the best medicine (and the best medicine was food), if we can believe that quote of his.

So we have the means to ameliorate the problem. If we can just stop the steamroller on the road, and I think we can, there’s reason to hope (or hope for reason).

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

May 282013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Biotech Ambassadors

Biotech Ambassadors accuses the State Department of pushing genetically engineered crops on nations around the world.

The U.S. State Department has been aggressively pushing GMO crops on countries around the world, using embassy connections to sway governments to adopt policies friendly to giant biotech firms like Missouri-based Monsanto, according to a new report by Food & Water Watch.

Based on an analysis of 926 State Department cables released by  Wikileaks, the report reveals  that U.S. embassies arranged dozens of conferences, speeches and policy meetings to extol the value of biotechnology and GMO-foods as the solution for an increasingly populated world facing land and water shortages.

The diplomatic cables examined discussed biotechnology or biotech seed companies. They were culled from a larger pool of State Department cables released by Wikileaks and were written in 2005 to 2009, when the State Department offered special funding to embassies to promote biotech crops.

The cables reveal that the State Department  lobbied for the acceptance of biotech agriculture by holding forums and conferences; lobbying against labeling laws and arranging junkets for officials to showcase biotechnology research in the U.S..

This was “a rigorous public relations campaign to improve the image of biotechnology” and a challenge to the “commonsense safeguards and rules” set up against GMO (genetically modified organisms) foods in other countries, wrote Wenonah Hauter, director of Food & Water Watch, in releasing the report, “Biotech Ambassadors.”

U.S. embassies should be working on food and agriculture issues,  according to the report, but their promotion of controversial GMO technology as the key solution amounts to “picking winners and losers” among agricultural techniques.

U.S. Promotion of GMO Foods Vital or “Outrageous”?

“We think it’s outrageous that the State Department spent more time talking in the cables about Monsanto and promoting genetic engineering than they did talking about food,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based non-profit.

Biotech agriculture, specifically genetic modification of plants to resist certain pesticides, is a controversial practice that builds in a dependence on chemicals that damage soil and water. It’s been banned in many nations over those concerns, and worries that the GMO (also known as GE for genetically engineered) foods produced may not be safe.

A State Department spokesperson responded to the Biotech Ambassadors report, saying that global diplomacy demands that U.S. embassies work to improve access to all types of foods as well as to the latest science.

“While we cannot speak to the authenticity of any documents referenced in the report [the leaked cables], it is important to note that the State Department works to ensure market access for all U.S. agricultural products, including organic, conventional and GE crops. We work in partnership with agencies across the federal government to promote biosafety regulatory systems in developing countries to enhance access to new agricultural technologies.”

U.S. embassies promote “the adoption of transparent, predictable, science-based regulations overseas” because it “increases market access for all U.S. products, including agricultural products, but it also promotes innovation in developing countries and encourages investment,” the spokesman said.

This promotion of the latest food science is vital, he said, because agricultural production “will need to increase by 60 percent or more by 2050 as the global population goes from 7 billion to 9 billion people.”

That projected jump in food needs gets to the heart of the core issue under debate:  How can countries relieve “food insecurity” and grow enough food for the future?

Monsanto Fail, Union of Concerned Scientists

Many groups, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, are beginning to question the value of genetically modifying crops to resist pesticides, because it has led to increased pesticide use and poisons beneficial insects, like butterflies.

Biotech multinationals promise to produce higher yielding, drought-resistant crops that use fewer pesticides. But critics of “Big Biotech” say that promise has not been realized in practice, and that pesticide-drenched croplands in the U.S. may be losing viability as weeds develop resistance to herbicides and chemicals change the structure of the soil.

At least one study has found that pesticide use increased between 1996 and 2011, the years when genetically modified corn, soybeans and cotton took over their commodity markets. Weed resistance has forced growers to turn to new chemicals, keeping them on a “chemical treadmill,” according to critics, which include groups such as the Organic Consumers Association and the Rodale Institute and many regional farm and food organizations.

These critics say a better approach would be to grow foods in chemical-free, sustainable soils and to strengthen local agricultural networks and traditional cultivation techniques to make sure crop improvements fit the region — especially in developing nations.

“If the (biotech) agenda that’s being pushed is adopted, you’re  radically going to change the food system in a lot of developing countries that is probably not good for the people that are there now, but it’s very good for Monsanto,” Lovera said.

“To make poor farmers in Africa farm like farmers in Iowa doesn’t make any sense for anybody except for Monsanto and John Deere.”

Given the debate over both the success and the environmental toll of biotech crops, the U.S. State Department should not be pushing them so hard in nations that might be better off sticking with native, organic  practices, Lovera said.

“This is selling a product, a controversial product, especially when you’re looking at developing countries, for the benefit of a handful of giant companies,” she said.

 ”Science Diplomacy” or Shilling for Seed Companies?

The Food & Water Watch report accepts that the State Department’s diplomacy mission fairly extends to educating others about new science and technology.

But after reviewing the 926 cables, Lovera and others concluded that the department’s “science diplomacy” appeared to be “closer to corporate diplomacy on behalf of the biotechnology industry.”

Africa -- improved crops, cowpea-field-trial

Africa faces extreme food security issues. Advocates for sustainable solutions say crop rotation, biological (natural) pest management and genetic modification for drought tolerance and higher yields can help; but not the synthetic pesticides and monocultures promoted by of multi-national corporations.

The cables addressed biotechnology and the desire to further it around the world, but little was said about conventional food aid or cultivation, Lovera said.

The spokesman for the State Department rebutted that criticism, saying the embassies work with many food groups and also promote organic growing methods, though when asked for details about the organic programs, he did not respond.

As evidence that State Department officials favored biotech over other methods, the Biotech Ambassadors report cited cables that mimic biotech “talking points” and promote “a pro-biotech message that reads right out of the biotech industry playbook.”

“The  biotech industry promises that GE crops will increase farm productivity, combat global hunger and strengthen  economic development opportunities, all with a lighter environmental footprint. In reality, the shift to biotech crops in the United States has delivered increased agri-chemical use and more expensive seeds. Although many scientists, development experts, consumers, environmentalists, citizens and governments dispute the benefits of this controversial technology, the State Department merely spouts industry talking points.”

When the talking points fail to represent reality, the cost on the ground can be significant, the report contends. It details how efforts to cheer lead for biotech in Kenya, with the hope of making the country a role model for other African nations subjected that region to some  “spectacular” agricultural failures.

A GE sweet potato developed for Kenya with $6 million from the World Bank and USAID (US Agency for International Development), failed to develop the hoped-for disease resistance or increase yields.

Meanwhile, conventional researchers in Uganda succeeded in developing a high-yield, virus-resistant sweet potato at much lower cost.

Still biotech promoters pushed ahead with their plan for Kenya and encouraged the country to develop biotech-friendly policies, despite opposition from the Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum and the fact that moving to GE cultivation could jeopardize Kenyan exports to Europe, which bans GMO and GE food imports, according to the report. (Kenya’s future relationship with biotech remains in limbo. it is on target to plant GE corn and cotton in 2014, but has halted the import and sale of GE foods while awaiting a certification of their safety, the report explained.)

 Monsanto Mindset   

How did Monsanto — and its fellow biotech giants, including Pioneer and Dow Chemical (in the U.S.) –  convince the U.S. government to lead their crusade to dominate the globe?

In a nutshell,  they’re large companies with deep pockets, Lovera said.

“The global value of biotech seed alone was $13.2 billion in 2011, with the end product of commercial grain from biotech maize, soybean grain and cotton valued at roughly $160 billion per year,” the U.S. Commerce Department reports (based on 2011 figures).

And that’s not counting the value of the chemicals being sold to growers. Monsanto’s flagship RoundUp is the top selling herbicide worldwide.

“This is an industry, the biotech industry — Monsanto’s their poster child, but there’s a whole industry pushing biotechnology, especially in agriculture — and they throw their weight around in Washington.”

The result is that a pro-biotech way of thinking has infiltrated government policymakers and agencies, such as the USDA and the State Department, she said. Additionally, the biotech firms fortify their position by funding extensive research at public universities where agronomists who buck the biotech trend can find themselves at the end of their career, she said.

“This is a world view of agriculture and what it should look like. We’re not alleging that anyone (in government)  was compensated or anything like that (for promoting biotech).

“This is now the official thinking, especially at the USDA, despite the window dressing they put on organic and things like that. And now we’re seeing that it’s also at the State Department. They are not neutral. They have picked a side and are promoting it.”

The dominance of the biotech firms would matter a little bit less if they didn’t squeeze out all competitors, including conventional and organic growers whose lands risk being contaminated by GE pollen, critics of GMO methods say.

In addition to spending millions to woo Washington, Monsanto is known for hitting hard against farmers that don’t follow its rule book.

CORN promo size

Monsanto has improved corn yields in the U.S. with corn infused with a natural toxin (Bt) to resist insects and genetically engineered to survive applications of Monsanto’s RoundUp. But environmental groups argue this system is breaking down as insects and weeds develop resistance to the chemicals; requiring more and newer chemicals, creating a “chemical treadmill”.

Monsanto requires that farmers buy new seeds for their crops every year, and sues farmers who try to reuse their patented genetically engineered seeds. The company has even sued farmers who’ve inadvertently grown GMO crops which blew in on the wind, a phenomenon  known as “genetic drift.”

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a farmer who reused leftover GMO seeds for several years violated Monsanto’s patents, depriving the company of its ability to profit from its patents.

Also this year, Congress passed a law, nicknamed “the Monsanto Protection Act,” essentially banning federal lawsuits against Monsanto over its GE crops.

Some critics argue that Monsanto — which controls more than a quarter of the world seed market — is simply too big to interfere with. Its patents cover more than 90 percent of soybean crops and about 80 percent of the corn grown in the U.S.. Livestock producers and food manufacturers depend on those crops, which dominate the American rural landscape.

A look at these numbers suggests that Monsanto, and the U.S., will need open markets around the world, both for exports and to generate new sales.

Yet much of the world has been skeptical of GMO foods, restricting their import and requiring labeling.

Even 17 years after biotech crops were first introduced in the United States in 1996, only five countries cultivated 89.4 percent of biotech crops in 2012 (the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India).7 The seed companies need the power of the U.S. State Department to force more countries, more farmers and more consumers to accept, cultivate and eat their products,” according to Biotech Ambassadors.

Of course, U.S. State Department officials don’t see themselves as “forcing” countries into biotech agriculture. They view their outreach as helping countries access “new technologies” that will help feed a growing world “in a more sustainable manner, using less land, less water, less fertilizer and fewer pesticides,” as the department spokesman said in an emailed response to questions.

The U.S. embassies helped seed companies in a variety of ways, from bringing local legislators and private biotech representatives together at conferences to organizing travel junkets designed for specific situations. A few examples from the report:

  •  In Malaysia, Hong Kong and South Africa, embassy employees lobbied against labeling laws. Biotech seed companies generally oppose labeling in the belief that it can raise a red flag to consumers, potentially leaving the impression that GMO foods might not be safe. (Which is why labeling proponents want the disclosure.)
  •   In Slovenia, the U.S. State Department produced a pamphlet on “the myths and realities of biotech agriculture.”
  •  In Hong Kong, the consulate send DVDs of a pro-biotech presentation to every high school.
  •  In Poland, the U.S. embassy tried to head off a ban on biotech livestock feed by bringing a delegation of high-level Polish government agriculture officials to meet with the USDA in Washington, tour Michigan State University and visit the Chicago Board of Trade.

The Biotech Ambassadors report urges an end to these programs, because genetically produced crops are being imposed on countries that do not want them, on behalf of seed companies that do not need U.S. taxpayer support.

“That’s a core issue,” Lovera said. “I think most people don’t think we’re paying the State Department to go out and do promotion for a private company or corporation.”

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Apr 252013

From Green Right Now Reports

A federal law introduced Wednesday would require labeling for genetically modified foods.

Locally Grown 2

Sweet corn is among the most recent foods to be genetically modified. So far, an American consumer buying sweet corn will not know if it’s GMO or not.

If passed, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act would require the Food and Drug Administration(FDA) to clearly label GE or GMO foods so that consumers can see what they’re buying. The federal law also would relieve states of having to draft and pass their own laws.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced the bipartisan bill, which has more than 30 co-sponsors in the House and Senate.

In a statement, Sen. Boxer pointed out that the public strongly supports food labeling for GE foods, and when polled large majorities, up to 90 percent, say they want to be able to decide between GE and non-GE products.

“Americans have the right to know what is in the food they eat so they can make the best choices for their families,” Sen. Boxer said. “This legislation is supported by a broad coalition of consumer groups, businesses, farmers, fishermen and parents who all agree that consumers deserve more – not less – information about the food they buy.”

Said Rep. DeFazio: “This legislation is supported by consumer’s rights advocates, family farms, environmental organizations, and businesses, and it allows consumers to make an informed choice.”

Added Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), “Consumers deserve to have clear, consistent, and accurate facts about the food products they purchase. More information is always better than less.”

Americans have been in the dark about which foods are genetically modified (the majority of corn, soybeans and sugar beets grown in the U.S. are GMO) because the FDA approved GE crops in the 1990s, deeming them to be “substantially” the same as conventional crops.

But around the world, and increasingly in the U.S., consumers don’t believe that foods altered with transgenic genes and engineered to resist pesticides are the same as their unmodified cousins.

Sen. Boxer’s statement elaborated on this point:

“Common sense would indicate that GE corn that produces its own insecticide – or is engineered to survive being doused by herbicides – is materially different from traditional corn that does not. Even the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has recognized that these foods are materially different and novel for patent purposes.”

The FDA, the statement noted, could easily mandate labeling for GE foods; it already requires special labels for more than 3,000 additives, ingredients and processes involved in food manufacturing and consumers are accustomed to checking for high-fructose corn syrup, MSG and other additives.

The GE-labeling law would ask the FDA to write new labeling standards consistent with its existing practices and with international standards.

Sen. Barbara-Boxer

Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D-CA)

Around the world, 64 countries already require the labeling for GE foods, including Russia, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand and all the member nations of the European Union.

In the U.S., biotech companies, led by Monsanto, have opposed labeling for GE foods, saying that it would needlessly frighten consumers. Monsanto, and a few other large Agricultural/Biotech companies like Syngenta, make both the genetically engineered seeds and the pesticides that many of the GE-foods are designed to withstand.

By building in pesticide resistance, the GE-food model allows for pesticides to be applied almost anytime in the crop cycle, making it easier for farms large and small to control weeds and pests. The scenario has backfired, however, with certain weeds achieving resistance to the pesticides being used (in many cases Monsanto’s RoundUp). As these weed failures occur, the biotech firms have applied for permits for other pesticides, including the notorious 2,4-D, which was a component in Agent Orange, known for having caused multiple health problems during the Vietnam War.

The science on the effects in humans from GE foods is still unclear. Some studies suggest that GMO grains may increase allergic reactions. A study in France found that rats dosed with RoundUp or GE corn developed more tumors than the control group.

Environmentalists argue that the widespread use of GE foods is forcing US residents into a long term health experiment about which they have no say. They also argue that GE crop production has resulted in increased use of pesticides, which are damaging the soil and waterways.

Many organizations and businesses support the federal labeling bill, including the Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Environmental Working Group, Just Label It, the National Farmers Union, Stonyfield Farms, Consumer Federation of America, AllergyKids Foundation, National Cooperative Grocers Association, New England Farmers Union, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, Center for Environmental Health, Chefs Collaborative, Label GMOs, Alaska Trollers Association, Ben & Jerry’s, Clif Bar & Company, Lundberg Family Farms, Nature’s Path, Annie’s Inc., and many more (See here.)


Apr 222013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

I remember 2007, when we started this website. People were tip-toeing toward greener behaviors. Activists were writing kids’ books explaining the greenhouse effect and urging tots to turn off the faucet while brushing their teeth. Scholars had assembled tomes, politely pointing out that we’d be running out of oil pretty soon.

Trash in Bin promo size

Recycle much? We’re doing better, with ample room to improve.

Even though it had been around for many years, we were about to learn what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was, when this alliance of scientists won a  Nobel Peace Prize that December for letting us know the earth was on a dangerous trajectory.

These were the quaint beginnings of the resurgent green movement, after the first push to save the planet had burned itself out in the 1980s, which were more about Wall Street, “Material Girls” and Ronald Reagan ripping those solar panels off the White House.

Even though experts like James E. Hansen and Bill McKibben and Al Gore sounded the alarm about climate change throughout the 1980s and 1990s, it was like they were a banging drums in a distant field. We could see them moving, but couldn’t hear the message. Most of us were sealed safely inside our careers and families, tending to the baby boomlet and buoyed by Clinton-era prosperity as we unknowingly chowed down on growth hormones and the first genetically modified foods creeping into our grocery carts.

Want proof Americans were oblivious? We drove SUVs; bought flats of bottled water and failed to learn what Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) was until we’d been drinking it for five years. We thought extra packaging was a good thing, because it meant we were a special consumer.

Oil and Gas Sources Declining

Clean energy may not be just a “good thing” to do. Here’s one of many charts showing oil and gas sources peaking early in the 21st Century.

It wasn’t that we were idiots. We were busy, and our government did us wrong. It approved chemicals, hormones, pesticides on industry’s say-so. It failed to counter advertising that suggested these things were safe. It failed to sign the Kyoto Treaty to try to keep carbon dioxide emissions down around the world. Our federal and state governments took some positive steps, approving tax credits for wind, solar and geothermal power. We got Energy Star appliances. But the right hand didn’t necessarily make up for the left hand.

We experienced the march toward a greener existence differently, of course, depending on our phase in life. The more frugal “Greatest Generation” skipped many high-impact activities. Tap water and properly scaled cars worked for them. They’d lived through the Great Depression and World Ware II.  And Gen X and Y may have snapped out of the fog a little quicker as the Internet opened their eyes. Many boomers finally remembered their roots and became big recyclers.

But Gen-whatever. Most of us were asleep.  We hadn’t connect the dots between fossil fuels and the changing upper atmosphere. We didn’t realize that corporations had hijacked our food system (even Willie Nelson probably didn’t realize how profoundly we’d be affected by the loss of family farms.).  We believed that RoundUp was biodegradable (it is not!) and we were unaware that our car companies really could make cars that got MUCH better gas mileage.

Tar Sands Blockade TreeSitBanner_9.24

Tree sitters in Texas tried to stop the Keystone XL pipeline in the fall of 2012.

Thankfully all that has changed. This Earth Day 2013, we’re no longer in the freshman class.

Most of us don’t really need a list of “10 Things We Can Do to Live More Lightly on the Earth” — we’ve got some good ideas about that now. We know what we need to do, it’s a matter of changing our routine to get it done.

All those basic steps are still important and we need to keep working on them: Use less water, install efficient light bulbs, carry a reusable shopping bag, recycle everything possible, and stop buying plastic water bottles (sadly, we’ve not made enough progress on this last one; it’s still a $20 billion annual industry according to KOR, which launched a big campaign today to “Free Water” from plastic bottles).

But it’s time to step up our game. And here’s the really great thing about 2013, compared with 2007, many of us have. We’re getting more than impatient, we’re getting mad.

  • Several groups are fighting ferociously to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, which is poised to enable a gusher of toxic tar sands oil from Canada. Just today another activist, Alec Johnson, 61 of Ames,  IA, and a member of the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance locked himself to heavy machinery to slow the pipeline’s construction in Oklahoma. He joins a long list of activists that have been throwing their bodies in the path of the pipeline. The strategy started in Texas with the Tar Sands Blockade, a coalition of angry landowners and climate activists, furious that the pipeline owner was using eminent domain to build the southern leg of the 1,700 mile pipeline between Alberta and Houston.
  • Similarly, dozens of groups in New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado have organized against natural gas fracking, another polluting activity that is looking less and less like its marketing image. These groups are worried about how fracking threatens clean water sources, releases the potent greenhouse gas, methane, and causes small earthquakes in heavily drilled regions. Despite government and industry protestations, this new more invasive, more polluting method of drilling leaves more than a trace of pollution in its wake.
  • In a variety of other states, citizens are trying to make space for a cleaner food system by demanding labeling for the genetically modified foods they believe are threatening our health. There are no definitive answers about whether these foods impair human health. Many of the studies looking at their effects have been done behind closed doors by the companies that stand to profit. Labeling proponents say that argues for a precautionary approach: Label the food and let consumers decide.  For more about these movements see the Non-GMO Project , Just Label It and Millions Against Monsanto

Many concerned citizens have been pushed too far, and are fighting to save the commons, slow climate change and switch to cleaner energy sources. It will take multiple concerted efforts.

Just like those car companies that had electric technology in their back pocket, we’ve got the wherewithal. We may just not know it.

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Mar 262013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

When last we left the Genetically Modified or Engineered (GE) salmon, he was swimming upstream hard, headed for the government stamp of approval needed before appearing in your grocery store.

A GE Salmon dwarfs a regular Atlantic salmon of the same age.

A GE Salmon dwarfs a regular Atlantic salmon of the same age.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had given the fish its preliminary nod of approval on Dec. 21, 2012, after determining that the proposed GE salmon would have “no significant impact” on the U.S.. The fish would be farmed in Canada and Panama, posing no disruption to American resources, and would be safe to eat, the FDA wrote.

“With respect to food safety, FDA has concluded that food from AquAdvantage Salmon is as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon, and that there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from consumption of food from triploid AquAdvantage Salmon.”

The finding of safety was not surprising. The FDA has for years approved GE foods — corn, soybeans, alfalfa — deeming them to be “substantially” the same as their unmodified cousins.

This “Finding of No Significant Impact,” known by the fun government acronym FONSI, cleared the path to market for the transgenic fish, an Atlantic salmon injected with genes from a Pacific Salmon to make it grow twice as fast and big as normal.

Developed by the Massachusetts firm AquaBounty Technologies , which aims to make more salmon available in a world of dwindling natural fisheries, the “AquAdvantage Salmon” would be the first GE animal to be sold to the public.

And so the clock began ticking on the requisite 60-day public comment period, which could conceivably have ended quietly, as some comment periods do.

Except that didn’t happen. On the heels of the GE salmon, dubbed a “Frankenfish” by a skeptical public, was a wave of public angst.

Public worried about GE Salmon

By Feb. 22, 11,465 people had lodged comments, many expressing vehement opposition to the GE salmon. An FDA spokeswoman declined to say whether that was a lot of comment. (You be the judge.)

After that, the FDA extended the comment period through April 26, 2013. (See below for details on how to comment on the AquAdvantage salmon.)

A look at the first 100 comments posted at Regulations.gov reveals that the majority of those writing are worried about the edibility, safety and environmental consequences of GE salmon. Here’s a sampling:

  • Our experience as a nation in utilizing genetically engineered food plants has shown us that it is not possible to “secure” genetic material once it is utilized in a natural environment. Genetic drift occurs and, invariably, the genetically engineered genes show up in natural populations… (Joseph Donohue)
  • Please do not allow genetically engineered Salmon into our food supply until it has been sufficiently tested!!!!!! (Jeffrey Coulter)
  • This presents an ethical and environmental risk and should not be released without much broader study. If this is approved, many people, including myself, will be forced to stop eating salmon altogether to avoid the risks imposed unless it is clearly labeled… it should not be called a salmon but given another name so that people who would like to consume natural, god-given foods, can avoid this man-made monstrosity. Please do your jobs and protect The People rather than the interests of the corporations that fund our leaders! (Jill Jenkins)
  • Do not let this pass please, it will be just as bad a Bovine Growth Hormone injected in the cows. These fish grow twice as fast as regular wild fish, What else have they altered with the DNA that’s important to know, but we will be kept in the dark just like the gas companies not disclosing the chemicals used in hydrofracking. This is just not normal. I won’t even buy farm raised.We should not be playing with genetically modified organisms with food in the first place, but big corporations like to control the food supply…If these companies could lessen toxins in our world, wild fish would be thriving much easier..Thank you, (Judy Nelli)
  • I already have health issues related to genetically modified food. Please stop this insanity of playing god with our food. It is the building blocks for our bodies. We all need to learn to grow more of our own foods. Mass production of food is spawning problems for people and the ecosystem…. (Andrea Louis-Visser)
  • As a US citizen that eats fish, I am extremely concerned about the lack of independent, scientific studies that the fish have undergone. I do not want to be a scientific experiment, understanding there has not been enough independent studies on it (let alone it being labeled), I will therefore stop eating ALL salmon if this GE salmon is approved. It’s disturbing how the US government takes the “prove it’s not good” to this GM technology, meanwhile all other countries take the “prove it’s good” methodology. The GM ingredients in our food certainly make it difficult to eat how our grandparents ate. Those that are not informed ARE the long-term study for the GM junk. Please slow down and don’t ruin for us! (Sara V. Hadden)

There was one pro-GE salmon commenter among the first 100 commenting. Don R. Nicholson said simply:  “I support accepting genetically altered salmon for human consumption. Future growth of seafood production is only possible thru technology to support farmed product. I am looking forward to feasting on affordable farmed Atlantic salmon. Thank
you for the opportunity to comment.”

The dam-burst of comment coincides with cresting public concern about GE foods in general, as evidenced by the massive campaign in California in 2012 to win labeling for GE foods. That effort was defeated after Monsanto and other biotech firms spent millions to squelch it. But new labeling campaigns have already sprung up in other states, including Washington where a labeling bill (I-522) is pending in the legislature.

One concern that keeps surfacing is that the the US government does not perform any independent testing on engineered food stuffs, and for many, that makes this GE salmon seem a bridge too far.

A GE-salmon swimming  upstream

Groups such as The Center for Food Safety  and Food Democracy consider the FDA’s reliance industry tests to be a shaky foundation for deciding the safety of newly created foods. The FDA argues that its review of tests done by biotech firms is sufficient, and some defenders of the government’s methods have additionally argued that it would not be in biotech’s interests to produce a harmful product.

The backdrop of past GE-food approvals provides little consolation. The effects of humans of GE foods approved in the US remain largely untested by independent scientists. Patents prevent outside groups from accessing transgenic material for independent study. And a clear look at human outcomes requires years of careful research.

And so the two sides continue their stand-off, with the FDA saying GE foods are essentially the same as non-GE foods, and the critics arguing that nothing’s been proven.

Non GMO Label

The Non GMO Project label helps consumers find products that are free of bio-tinkering.

Food safety groups have raised questions about whether the GE salmon could promote allergies, an emerging worry with other GE foods, and raise human cancer risks by promoting higher levels of a certain growth hormone in the human consumer There’s really no hard evidence showing or disproving this concern.

The U.S. FDA does stand alone, well, with Canada, in dismissing the need for labeling. Dozens of developed and smaller nations, 61 in fact, have taken a precautionary stance and require that GE foods be labeled, and 50 nations impose restrictions or bans on them, according to LabelGMO.org.

But not everyone views the AquaAdvantage salmon created (manufactured?) by AquaBounty as sinister.

The company portrays the fish as a safe and sustainable food supply solution because the fish that grows quickly and requires less feed. The specimens would all be sterile females confined to aquaculture tanks, a tidy, efficient way to create food, according to AquaBounty.

For its part, the FDA has promised ongoing regulatory oversight for “as long as it is produced and marketed.” Egg production would only be allowed at one facility on Prince Edward Island and all other operations, (“grow out” and packaging) would be confined to Panama. Chances that the transgenic fish would escape into the wild would be “extremely remote,” the agency reported in its preliminary draft, approved on May 4, 2012.

Environmental groups, perhaps tired of being force-fed altered food products (like the pesticide GE corn and soybeans that dominant the market and contaminate organic fields) remain unswayed.

The salmon’s safety as food is unproven, and without labeling American consumers would be in the dark about which salmon is GMO and non-GMO, they protest.

Some civil libertarians have joined the backlash, arguing that failure to label the salmon and other GE products violates consumers’ rights to opt out of a biotech-engineered meal.

This secondary complaint has resonated even with the U.S. Senate. Members in the West Coast wild salmon-fishing states, which could suffer economically when the “Franken-salmon” hits the fish counter, took time during recent budget discussions to pass an amendment favoring labeling of GE fish.

This is a relatively safe stance to take. Polls typically show the public favors the labeling of GE foods, despite the November 2012 defeat of California’s Prop 37, which would have mandated labeling. (Prop 37 advocates say the measure sank when biotech giants flooded the airwaves with anti-37 ads.)

The GE battle lines continue to shift and that portends more debate, if not a stalmate for our salmon.

During the California fight, many grocery groups sided with the biotech firms. Now, however, some major food retailers have drawn a line in the sand over GE salmon.

Last week, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, Aldi and others, representing 2,000 groceries nationwide, declared they would not sell the genetically modified salmon.  Whole Foods Market spokeswoman Jennifer Marples explained:

“We’ve stated publicly for years that our quality standards prohibit the use or sale of genetically modified or cloned seafood. We believe all farmed animals – whether raised on land or in water, should be from breeding programs designed to promote their welfare rather than developed solely on production or economic outcomes.”

The grocery chain’s Aquaculture webpage further explains that Whole Foods is fine with farmed fish, as long as the producers do not use antibiotics, growth hormones or GE or cloned fish.

Whole Foods took another step this month, declaring that by 2018 all the food on its shelves will be labeled to show if it contains GMOs. That’s a long time in the future, and it has left some skeptical about whether WF’s commitment will hold.Arguing for commitment: The store already sells 3,000 Non-GMO Project-verified foods.

Whole Foods may find that its pro-labeling stance actually makes some aspects of its operations easier. It satisfies American shoppers who want GMO disclosure and also customers abroad already accustomed to GMO labeling. Whole Foods has seven stores in the UK, which mandates labels.

Smaller, but similarly bent Trader Joe’s also has begun catering to shoppers who want non-GMO foods, pledging in December that all of its house-labeled Trader Joe and Trader Ming products would be GMO-free.

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Feb 132013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

If you haven’t heard by now, genetically modified crops or GMOs are typically developed to resist a certain pesticide.

That allows farmers to spray their crops with a certain herbicide — like one sold by the GMO company, killing the weeds but not the crop plants. The corn, soy or whatever survives, and yields go up. The weeds are killed. It’s a miracle of modern bio-engineering!

Except. It is not. There’s a big trade-off occurring, a behind-the-scenes failure of GM crops that puts the lie to the big promises made by GM crop seed makers like Monsanto and Bayer.

Here’s how the system breaks down: After a few years, the weeds adapt to the chemical (as agronomists have predicted since these systems were proposed).

So farmers apply more herbicide, more often.

Whew! Problem solved. Again, no. The additional application of chemicals — usually it is glyphosate, known as RoundUp, the world’s most-used, beloved and reviled herbicide –works for a time.

Weed, largeThen this house of cards collapses. Farmers find that after they’ve battered their fields with RoundUp for a few years (killing God-knows what all beneficial micro-organisms in the soil), they’ve now got a second, unwanted massive crop of RoundUp resistant weeds. Monsanto enjoyed several seasons of profits, but the fields are in major decline.

This isn’t just a radical theory or a few anecdotal tales.

An agri-marketing firm called Stratus has found that 61.2 million acres of US cropland  is “infested” with glyposate-resistant weeds.

That is double the acreage that was infested in 2010, according to a report by Stratus Agri-marketing Inc., which surveyed thousands of farmers over three years.

In some parts of the country, mainly the South, the weeds are gaining ground Nearly all of the Georgia farmers queried (92 percent) said they now have some glyphosate-resistant weeds.

Across all the farmers surveyed, 49 percent reported having glyphosate-resistant weeds on their farm in 2012, a figure that rose quickly from 2011 when 34 percent of farmers reported battling RoundUp-resistance.

This problem is well-known to agribusiness, though the big companies don’t promote it to the public, which is asked to support  GM crops because they’re needed to “feed the world”.

Instead, the chemical companies have applied to the EPA for new chemicals. That has brought them full circle, wanting to use the older, more toxic herbicides like 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange, for which RoundUp was supposed to be a safer replacement.

Monsanto also has posted several tips for farmers battling weed resistance, counseling them to better prep fields, control weeds early when they’re small, use tillage or crop rotation (ironically, crop rotation is one old-school method that’s been lost to the modern crop monocultures encouraged by the giant Ag companies and federal subsidies).

Monsanto also denies that RoundUp is the only bad actor in the explosion of Super Weeds. From its website:

“Confusion about what is or is not weed resistance is common. Herbicides are not known to directly cause genetic mutations in weeds that lead to resistance. However, herbicide resistant biotypes may already exist in native weed populations. When a herbicide is applied over and over again, some of these biotypes survive, mature and produce seed. If a farmer relies on only one herbicide with the same mechanism of action, again, the percentage of the resistant biotypes in the population is likely to increase. This is referred to as herbicide selection pressure.”

This seems to be an admonition to the farmer to use multiple herbicides, after selling him or her a crop seed that’s specially designed to work with one specific herbicide (usually RoundUp).

But for the record, that’s Monsanto’s position, farmers need to manage the situation better.

The company also notes on its website that its GM crops do increase yields. Again, for the record, we’re not saying here that they don’t. We’ve heard from farmers that they do. The problem is not lower yields, but a backlash of more weeds that can ultimately impair productivity, or require heavier and more frequent applications of herbicides.

To read more about the outbreak of weeds, see the blog by Ontario-based Stratus.

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Dec 062012

From Green Right Now Reports

Food activists who support GMO labeling have been letting General Mills know that they don’t appreciate the corporation’s recent contributions toward defeating the labeling ballot initiative in California.

Over the past week, thousands registered their dismay with the cereal giant on the Cheerios Facebook page , according to the GMO Inside Campaign.

These consumers are “distressed about genetically engineered ingredients in Cheerios and outraged at General Mills [for] contributing over $1.1 million to the ‘No on 37′ in California,” the group reports.

“No on 37″ was the corporately funded group that defeated Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of foods that use genetically modified ingredients. The ballot initiative had wide public support through most of 2012, but was defeated after a $40+ million campaign funded by Monsanto and other pesticide makers invested in the GM crop process.

Grocery chains and food corporations also joined the fight to defeat Prop 37, saying that a GMO label would scare consumers about genetically engineered foods.

GMOs have been widely incorporated into packaged foods and cereals as the food supply in the U.S. has become flooded with GMOs (most genetically modified or engineered foods are created by major manufacturers to resist certain pesticides). An estimated 85 percent or more of the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. Sugar beets and other crops also have been genetically modified.

People and groups opposed to GMO foods say they have not been proven safe, despite the government’s assurance that they are “substantially similar” to conventionally grown foods. GMO foods have been shown to increase the yield of certain row crops, but studies also document that those yields can crash as weeds develop resistance to RoundUp and other pesticides incorporated into the GMO game plan.

Cheerios’ marketing wing unwittingly invited trouble recently when it asked Facebook users to “share what Cheerios means to them.” The invitation set off a wave of venting by anti-GMO groups and individuals. Posters expressed concerns that products using GM ingredients may not be safe, and many suggested that General Mills is participating in a giant food experiment.

Alisa Gravitz, CEO and president of Green America, a founder of GMO Inside, said she was heartened to see robust opposition expressed on the Cheerios’ Facebook page after Inside GMO invited people to post.

“It is also amazing to see the creativity that visitors to Cheerios’ Facebook page use to call out Cheerios on using their customers as a science experiment for GMO consumption,” she said.

“Cheerios is a cereal that is frequently fed to children, and many of the comments are from concerned parents who are worried about the fact that they have been feeding a cereal with genetically engineered ingredients to their children.”

A sampling of the backlash:

  • Jennifer Kongs answered a query on Cheerios page asking for “fond memories” of Cheerios and the holidays, pleading: “Please label GMOs – otherwise my children will never have any “fond Cheerios memories” — they’ll never eat them.”
  • Nathan Burton put it all on the table: “What $1,135,300 donated against Prop 37? Family of 7 here…I will buy no more General Mills cereals until they are guaranteed GMO free! If you do that you will have a loyal customer. Until then…FORGET IT!!!!!”
  • Cyndi More DePree reacted to the picture of a granny feeding a tot Cheerios as a Christmas tree glowed in the background: “Nothing makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside like grandmothers feeding toxic crap to their infant grandchildren.”
  • Alexis DeBerry said: General Mills you have lost another customer. We serve this in our employee cafeteria every day. I am seriously disappointed in the disparity between what you preach and what you practice. Don’t plaster your boxes with health claims while filling your product with genetically modified ingredients. GM crops are not only harmful to us as individuals, their use is wrecking havoc on our ecosystems. And shame on you for trying to keep customers in the dark by contributing over a million dollars to keep labels of GM foods.

That’s probably not the reaction GM was hoping for. What does General Mills think of this kamikaze campaign to keep the GMO issue alive? Their money, spent to oppose labeling in California, speaks for them. But we’ve also sent a query asking for more comment and will post that when and if the company responds.

Earlier General Mills pulled an App that allowed fans to issue their comments in the familiar “Cheerios” font. The company pulled that app after the negative remarks began piling up. (You can see an example in the image above.)

GMO Inside reports that visitors had used the Cheerios Facebook App to spell out comments such as “Caution GMOs,” “Cheerigmos,” and “We are not lab rats.”

Even though General Mills removed the app and the posts generated by it from their Facebook page, some of these messages are preserved at the Cheeseslave website and the Happy Place website.




Sep 202012

From Green Right Now Reports

Research by French scientists showing that rats fed GMO corn developed tumors and died prematurely has prompted the French government to call for additional investigation of genetically modified crops and to continue its ban on GE agriculture.

But the study came in for criticism from scientists in other countries shortly after it was published Wednesday in Food and Chemical Toxicology.

Tom Sanders, head of nutritional research at King’s College London, found fault with the study design, telling Reuters that the strain of rat the French team used gets breast tumors easily. Sanders also said that the rats could have become ill from other causes, such as overeating or a hormone imbalance caused by fungus in the feed.

Another critic interviewed by Reuters, Mark Tester, a research professor at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics at the University of Adelaide, said he finds the study outcomes implausible because no prior studies have uncovered such devastating damage from GMOs.

“If the effects are as big as purported, and if the work really is relevant to humans, why aren’t the North Americans dropping like flies?” he asked.

The French researchers fed the rats a ration of GMO-corn made by Monsanto for two years, covering the approximate life span of the laboratory animals. They also dosed another group of rats with water with traces of RoundUp, replicating a level considered safe by the U.S. EPA.

They reported that overall 50 percent of male and 70 percent of female rats died prematurely — the female rats mainly of mammary tumors and the male rats of liver and kidney failure — compared with only 30 percent and 20 percent in the control group.

Groups that oppose GMOs hailed the study as one of the longest term, if not the longest term study of the effects of eating genetically modified food.

Several other animal studies involving genetically modified foods have shown negative outcomes, according to the Institute for Responsible Technology and the Pesticide Action Network. Both groups track studies and problems with GMOs and are campaigning for Proposition 37 in California, which would require labeling of GM foods in the U.S.

Read more about the French study here.

Read more about the move for labeling in California at Right to Know.


Jul 072009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Food, Inc. could have delivered a reach-for-the-Maalox montage of cows mired in manure, pig carcasses whacked about on conveyor belts and immobilized chickens locked in dark crowded coops to make its point about how mass food production has become such an unhealthy affair.

The film does dish up selected grotesque shots of slabs of beef, downer cows, dead hens and grimy CAFOs. There are a few gasp-aloud moments, such as when chickens are beheaded (inexplicably, the scene is chosen from footage of a sustainable farm operation — to show humane life and death?). But that aside, the beauty of this excellent documentary lies in its restraint. Rather than beating up corporate culprits Smithfield, Cargill and others with the big stick of blood and guts, Food Inc. confidently and methodically peels back the labels on our packaged food wonderland, telling an even-handed tale of relentless corruption and greed.

We begin in la-la land — a chilly grocery aisle where cheap subsidized corn infiltrates everything from mayonnaise to pancake syrup and the eerily perfect vegetables come engineered to survive shipping. The camera flows Lynch-like over beautifully arrayed aisles teeming with seeming variety, except that its an illusion. This bonanza of pre-fab food is composed mainly of subsidized commodities — corn and soybeans — and doused in cheap sweeteners like the high fructose corn syrup. A formula for poor nutrition, and diabetes.

Food, Inc. covers a lot of turf. It shows how we got here (agriculture that once nobly tried to pump up yields turned aggressive and restaurants adopted assembly line production — shout out to Mickey Ds!); how bad it is (cows fattened and sickened on grain that build up E. coli in their guts); how big it is (32,000 hogs killed every day at the world’s largest slaughterhouse in North Carolina), how warped (chickens bred to produce more breast meat pitch forward and can’t walk) and how negligent (as the system has grown, food inspectors have declined five-fold since 1970).

Pathogens, food poisoning victims, ineffective regulators, corrupt Washington influences. It’s all here, a feast of good intentions run amok and bad intentions covered up.

The film is relentless, and fascinating, as long as you’re not planning on dinner afterward. Reviewers have called it “riveting” and “horrifying”, (though I bet after a hiatus they’re still eating hamburger). To those familiar with the issues, it won’t be horrifying so much as a call to action. (You can answer that call on the website.)

Director Robert Kenner spent six years on this film, and it shows. Food, Inc. races back and forth between the producers and the consumers, but remains coherent. We get intimate glimpses of a financially strapped family shopping for groceries only to find that the hamburger is more affordable than the broccoli. There’s a classroom where the majority of kids raise their hands when asked if they have a family member with diabetes. A chicken producer reveals how the animals fare in a typical poultry house, risking her corporate contract (which she later loses). Diana De Gette remembers her toddler son, Kevin, poisoned by a hamburger infected with the E. coli bacteria.

The narrators, journalist and co-producer Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and author Michael Pollan, (Omnivore’s Dilemma), walk us through the complexities but don’t get in the way.