Organic vs. Conventional = Liberal vs. Conservative
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From the earliest days of Colonial America there were the conservatives– called the Tories then, they wanted continued ties to Britain—and the liberal patriots who wanted to establish a new country on this soil, free from British oppression. The split continued full force after the Revolutionary War, with Alexander Hamilton in the conservative camp and Tom Jefferson in the liberal. Over the decades and then the centuries, various labels were applied—the whigs, the know-nothings, the States’ Rights group, the Abolitionists, the Confederacy, the Unionists, the Progressives, the populists, the Republicans, the Democrats. But the ideological stances remained the same.
Today’s Tea Party is just a particularly virulent form of this long-standing conservatism, while the Occupy movement is—or was—a very energetic form of liberalism.
This dichotomy runs through more than just the political life of the country. In our food system, it’s pretty obvious how it plays out. The conservatives stand behind corporate agriculture with its agricultural chemicals, genetic engineering, processed foods, opposition to environmental protections, and big money for battalions of lobbyists who curry Congressional favor for Big Ag’s plutocrats.
The liberals, on the other hand, place their money on organic food production, sustainable practices, environmentally-sound ways of doing things, natural systems, local agriculture, family farmers, humane animal husbandry, whole foods, and protection of the earth’s fragile ecologies.
The fact is that big money runs big government, and that’s why organic farming gets such short shrift at the USDA. The money flows to big land grant universities for research into conventional agriculture, for the most part. The FDA and EPA, which, if those bureaucracies were interested in the welfare of the country and its environment, would seem to be the natural allies of organic farming, are run by revolving door suits from agribusiness and biotechnology firms.
Despite all the obstacles, the organic movement has grown and is growing stronger. That’s a tribute to its common sense approach to the task of growing food and fiber without destroying the land and its ecosystems and harming the creatures—including humans—who live from that task.
Now don’t get me wrong. The conservative point of view can be as constructive as the liberal. Whereas the liberal might say, “The baby’s bath water is dirty. Let’s throw it out and replace it with clean bath water,” the conservative might say, “Let’s make sure we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” Both of those ideas make sense. The liberal impulse toward doing new good is checked by the conservative’s impulse for preserving existing good. That’s why our government works when it has moderates in both parties able to find compromises that allow progress to be made.
That’s not what we’ve been seeing lately, and certainly not in the tea party led rebellion that shut down the government and threatened default that would have destroyed the pillars of the world’s economic foundations—the full faith and credit of the United States that make U.S. Treasury bills the safest investment in the world. No sense of the common good there, unless you think that the Affordable Care Act’s destruction justifies destroying the country along with it. Remember “We had to destroy the village to save it”?
As a person who believes that organic agriculture is the safest, sanest, and most profitable way to building a sustainable farming system while feeding the world, I count myself in the liberal camp. I would like to hear what conservatives who really have the best interests of the country at heart, and not just its big and powerful corporations, have to say about how we transition away from chemical agriculture into a more natural agriculture. I suppose the next question is, are there any conservatives left who really have the best interests of the country at heart? Casting an eye over the right wing these days seems to reveal mostly mean-spirited support for the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.
A place to start would be to agree on what problems are real as seen from both right and left, for, of course, there are real problems any time you implement almost anything in this world. Climate deniers and birthers need not apply. I’m suggesting that ideologues on both sides should be quiet and allow critical thinkers left and right to identify problems both can agree need to be fixed.
In the realm of agriculture, could there be agreement that conventional farming causes depleted soils prone to erosion? Plenty of science supports that position. Conventional advocates might say that no-till methods are a way to fix the problem. Organic advocates might say that recycling organic matter back into the soil is a way to fix the problem. Organic advocates may also say that no-till agriculture requires the use of chemical herbicides that are environmentally destructive, while conventional advocates might say that we should search for environmentally friendly ways to check weed growth in crop fields. In other words, if the goal is set as preventing soil erosion, both sides might have something valuable to contribute.
But that’s not the way we do things today. Conventional agriculture, as represented by corporations like Monsanto, Cargill, Archer-Daniels-Midland, Dow, BASF, Bayer, Syngenta, and many others, not only wouldn’t have anything to add to a discussion of prevention of soil erosion, they wouldn’t even agree that it’s a goal.
In other words, they are out on an ideological limb that’s devoted to their bottom line, not the common good. How to bring them to the table? The only possible way is through legislation from Congress that forces them to the table. And what would that look like?
To continue with our example of soil erosion, it would look like laws that make soil eroding practices unprofitable. Like a tax on every cubic meter of soil that’s depleted on the nation’s farms—a tax so heavy that it would be in the interest of the conventional farmers to take steps to curtail and stop erosion. And what would those steps be? Well, recycling the nation’s clean organic waste through large composting facilities and returning it to our agricultural soils would be the way to do it sustainably. Couple that with an end to chemical fertilization that renders the soil bereft of the organic matter that makes the soil spongy and cohesive.
Which would bring the conventional farmers back to the organic farmers, who are already recycling through composting. So am I saying that organic practices are the answer to our environmentally destructive farming practices? Well, yes. Unless the conventional farmers can prove me wrong.
This is the discussion we need to have in this country. Ideological posturing won’t get us anywhere. This is not a football game. There are real food issues out there that need to be addressed. Cover-ups, obfuscation, deceit, lying, and all the other underhanded tactics practiced by the huge corporate giants—yes, I’m talking about you, Monsanto, and all those trying to prevent people from knowing whether their food contains genetically modified ingredients—are simply turns of the wheels by the man behind the curtain, the Wizard of Oz, who is nothing more than a bankrupt purveyor of hokum. Except the hokum lines the shelves of our supermarkets and does untold harm to our environment, our food supply, our farm workers, and our citizens.
It’s time to get real.
ORGANIC CHAMPION QUITS ORGANIC TRADE ASSOCIATION
The Cornucopia Institute reports that the esteemed former chairman of the National Organic Standards Board, James Riddle, responded to comments from the board president of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) by resigning his long-time membership.
In his resignation letter, Riddle corrects the OTA’s new president, Melody Meyer, who is a vice president of the $6 billion organic/natural distributor, United Natural Foods International, on her misrepresentations in defending the recent USDA power grab neutering the power Congress gave to the National Organic Standards Board to protect the integrity of organics.
In his resignation letter, Riddle wrote, “OTA’s new board president, Melody Meyer, recently wrote and released a divisive, inaccurate, and accusatory article entitled, ‘Stop the lies and get behind your National Organic Program.’ In her article, Ms. Meyer displayed an alarming lack of understanding of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and the National Organic Program (NOP) Final Rule, as well as disrespect for public interest groups who have been part of the organic movement from the beginning.”
The National Organic Program is all that stands between us and “organic food” that isn’t really organic. James Riddle’s resignation is bad news for those of us who want organic to mean what we think it does. We’ll be investigating this more fully and will report back soon.
DOES ROUND-UP CAUSE BREAST CANCER?
The journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) has accepted for publication a new study that links exposure to Monsanto’s RoundUp herbicide, the active ingredient of which is glyphosate, to severe endocrine disruption and breast cancer.
And the worst part is that the chemical was found to elicit these and other harmful effects at virtually imperceptible levels in the parts per trillion range, which is far below the levels that commonly occur in the environment and the food supply as a result of misguided corporate agriculture practices.
It was already previously known that glyphosate tends to be estrogenic, and that both consumption of and exposure to it through food and water can promote the growth of breast cancer cells. But what was not fully understood is at what concentration the toxin causes such problems.
We now know, however, thanks to the new analysis, that pure glyphosate acts on estrogen receptors (ERs) in the body to promote the growth of hormone-dependent breast cancer cells at levels far below what millions of people are exposed to every single day through the general food supply.
DO ROUND-UP READY GMOS ALSO CAUSE BREAST CANCER?
This is particularly concerning as glyphosate has been detected in human urine samples at levels as high as 233 parts per billion, according to earlier studies, which is 233,000 times higher than the rough minimum amount of glyphosate determined to cause breast cancer in the new study quoted above.
But it gets even worse. The new study also revealed that RoundUp-Ready, genetically-modified (GMO) soybeans, which are also highly estrogenic, contribute to the problem as well.
According to the new data, genistein, the primary phytoestrogen found in unfermented soy and soy products, is also a significant breast cancer-causing agent. Together with glyphosate, exposure to and consumption of soybeans and soy-based products, and particularly those of GMO origin, appears to be a leading cause of the ever-worsening breast cancer epidemic that we are witnessing today.
You can find a summary of the study at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23756170
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OH—LOOK WHO’S BEHIND ‘NO ON 522’ IN WASHINGTON STATE
A number of new opponents to the GMO food labeling proposal in Washington State (I-522) were recently revealed following the release of their names by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a national business lobbying organization.
The GMA had been–apparently in violation of state election law–hiding the identity of its donors who had provided more than $7.2 million to fight the consumers’ right to know what is in their food. The disclosure came shortly after Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit demanding the GMA reveal the identity of its secret donors.
“Consumers might be surprised to find out that some of their favorite organic and natural brands, hiding behind the Grocery Manufacturers Association, are contributing bushel baskets of cash towards thwarting their right to make informed choices in the supermarket,” says Mark Kastel, the Cornucopia Institute’s co-director.
“We think the bad press and consumer outrage that many of the GMA member companies received in California, like Kellogs (Kashi), General Mills (Cascadian Farms and Muir Glen) and Smucker’s (Santa Cruz and Knudsen), led to the decision to try to hide under the GMA’s cloak with its secret donor approach,” noted Kastel.
The most recent polling of Washington State voters indicates a tightening race on the I-522 initiative, with a narrow majority supporting labeling of GMO food ingredients. Opponents of the measure have raised in excess of $17.1 million. The GMA’s share of the NO vote war chest, at $7.2 million, is greater than all of the money raised by I-522 supporters, who have collected only $6.9 million in favor of a YES vote.
GMO CROPS CALLED ‘SAFER THAN ORGANIC’
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A column in a recent Forbes magazine includes this paragraph: “Every major international science body in the world has reviewed multiple independent studies—in some cases numbering in the hundreds—in coming to the consensus conclusion that GMO crops are as safe or safer than conventional or organic foods.”
After reading that, I thought I’d devote the rest of this post to some recent science and facts that may contradict the Forbes article. Besides GMOs, I look at the effects of glyphosate, Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, because the use of herbicide is directly related to the creation of herbicide-resistant GMO crops.
If you want more of the direct effects of GMOs on human health, visit www.gmoevidence.com and also http://earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/58
ARE CHEERIOS A SOURCE OF GMOS?
A new report from Green America’s “GMO Inside” campaign exposes the nature of General Mills’ popular cereal, Cheerios.
“Deception at General Mills: The Real Corporate Social Responsibility Report for General Mills” (www.NoGMOsCheerios.org) focuses on America’s most popular breakfast cereal.
While General Mills promotes Cheerios for its use of whole grain oats, stating, “The whole grain oats in Cheerios Cereal are natural,” it is silent about the fact that many of the other ingredients in Cheerios, including modified corn starch, sugar, and vitamin E, are at high risk of being genetically modified.
While concealing its use of GMOs in the United States and Canada, General Mills offers non-GMO Cheerios to consumers in Europe and elsewhere. The company has declined to make available to U.S. families the same non-GMO product it sells in Europe and all around the rest of the world.
General Mills is failing to be transparent. In a bid to keep American consumers in the dark, the company spent over $1 million in California to oppose GMO labeling legislation, thus depriving their American consumers with the basic right to know what is in their food. In Washington State, the company is fighting GMO labeling under cover of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Polls show that more than 93 percent of Americans support the labeling of GMOs.
Honey Nut Cheerios is the most popular breakfast cereal in America, and one often fed to babies as one of their first solid foods. Regarding this, Michelle Perro, M.D., a pediatrician at the Institute for Health & Healing of the Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation in San Francisco, said: “The state of our children’s
health should sound the alarm for every parent, every health care provider, and politicians. The common denominators in the decline in their health are GMOs and Roundup Ready contamination. Scientific data has shown that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the pesticide Roundup, causes disruption in the biome of the gastrointestinal tract as well as direct toxicity on gut function. In addition, it interferes with liver detoxification pathways so that normal removal of toxins is impaired. As a result, the list of disorders that now are common occurrences in our children includes asthma, allergies, and autoimmune diseases.”
Green America’s GMO Inside campaign is calling on General Mills to be a leader in its industry by being the first major food corporation to announce a phase-out of GM ingredients, starting with Cheerios. This change will create ripple effects up the supply chain that will lead to increasing acres of cropland being converted to less destructive, less risky, and less corporate-dominated, non-GMO farming techniques.
GMO Inside also released today a video highlighting the campaign’s concerns with GMOs in Cheerios. The video lets viewers know that contrary to General Mills’ assertions that Cheerios remain unchanged, the recipe has altered to include GMOs. The video can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbiDgOkhoyY&feature=youtu.be.
AMERICAN JUDGE FINES MOMS FOR FIGHTING GMOS
When a group of pro-labeling moms in Washington State figured out that the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) was breaking the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws, they did something about it. They formed a grassroots group, Moms for Labeling, and they sued the GMA, the Organic Consumers Association reports.
Their complaint? The GMA is concealing the identities of out-of-state corporations, namely Big Food companies, which are funneling donations to the NO on I-522 campaign through the multi-billion dollar GMA. The Moms had a whistleblower lined up to testify. But then the judge dismissed their case, on a technicality.
You’d think that would have been enough to make the GMA happy, but no. The lobbying giant went after the Moms with a countersuit, prompting a judge to slap the Moms with a $10,000 fine, under a law that is supposed to protect citizens from frivolous suits by big companies.
End of story? Not yet. In dismissing the suit, the judge ruled that under the circumstances, only the state attorney general now has the authority to sue the GMA for violating Washington’s Public Disclosure Act.
The NO on I-522 campaign has so far raised $17.1 million to blanket the airwaves with lies, as it tries to scare voters into voting against the I-522 GMO labeling initiative. The GMA, which represents over 300 corporations including Kraft, Kellogg’s, Monsanto, Dupont, Starbucks, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, ConAgra and General Mills, has kicked in $7.2 million so far – $5 million more than the lobbying group spent last year in California to defeat a similar GMO labeling initiative.
Who’s missing from the NO on I-522 donor roster this year? The junk food giants who spent millions last year, but this year are hiding their donations from public view.
Let’s pick up where the Moms for Labeling left off, by insisting that Washington’s attorney general force the GMA to comply with the state’s campaign disclosure laws. Take action by visiting www.organicconsumers.org.
MEXICAN JUDGE RULES GMOS ARE ‘IMMINENT THREAT’
An October 10 press release from Mexico City announced the banning of genetically-engineered corn in Mexico. According to the group La Coperacha, a federal judge has ordered Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture, and the country’s equivalent of the EPA, to immediately “suspend all activities involving the planting of transgenic corn in the country and end the granting of permission for experimental and pilot commercial plantings,” reports Devon Pena of Seattle.
The unprecedented ban was granted by the Twelfth Federal District Court for Civil Matters of Mexico City. Judge Jaime Eduardo Verdugo wrote the opinion and cited “the risk of imminent harm to the environment” as the basis for the decision. The judge also ruled that multinationals like Monsanto and Pioneer are banned from the release of transgenic maize in the Mexican countryside as long as collective action lawsuits initiated by citizens, farmers, scientists, and civil society organizations are working their way through the judicial system.
This ruling marks a milestone in the long struggle of citizen demands for a GMO-free Mexico, acknowledged Rene Sanchez Galindo, legal counsel for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, adding that the ruling has serious enforcement provisions and includes the possibility of “criminal charges for the authorities responsible for allowing the introduction of transgenic corn in our country.” Father Miguel Concha said the judge’s decision reflects a commitment to respect the Precautionary Principle expressed in various international treaties and statements of human rights. Concha emphasized that the government is obliged to protect the human rights of Mexicans against the economic interests of big business. The lawsuit seeks to protect the “human right to save and use the agrobiodiversity of native landraces from the threats posed by GMO maize,” said the human rights advocate.
The class action lawsuit is supported by scientific evidence from studies that have – since 2001 – documented the contamination of Mexico’s native corn varieties by transgenes from GMO corn, principally the varieties introduced by Monsanto’s Roundup Ready lines and the herbicide-resistant varieties marketed by Pioneer and Bayer CropScience. The collection of the growing body of scientific research on the introgression of transgenes into Mexico’s native corn genome has been a principal goal and activity of the national campaign, Sin Maiz, No Hay Paiz (Without Corn, There Is No Country).
GLYPHOSATE TOXIC TO DAIRY COWS
A new study by scientists in Europe has revealed that glyphosate (Roundup) is toxic to the normal metabolism of dairy cows, according to the September 12, 2013, issue of Sustainable Agriculture.
In the new paper titled “Field Investigations of Glyphosate in Urine of Danish Dairy Cows,” published in the Journal of Environmental & Analytical Toxicology, researchers led by Dr. Monika Krüger reveal that “all cows investigated at the eight Danish dairy farms excreted glyphosate in their urine.”
This study follows two studies during the last year that have caused shockwaves around the globe regarding the dangers of the glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide-– the world’s best selling brand.
First, in September, 2012, in a study published in “Food and Chemical Toxicology,” researchers found that rats fed a diet containing NK603 Roundup-tolerant GMO corn or given water containing Roundup at levels permitted in drinking water and GMO crops in the U.S., developed cancers faster and died earlier than rats fed on a standard diet. They suffered breast cancer and severe liver and kidney damage.
Following that study, results of tests commissioned by Friends of the Earth Europe showed that people in 18 countries across Europe were found to have traces of the weed killer glyphosate in their urine.
The evidence suggesting that Roundup should be removed from shop shelves worldwide is building and this latest Danish cow study only adds to the pressure on farming organizations and food regulatory bodies to take action.
As the Danish dairy cow study states: “The intensive use of glyphosate has led to its wide-spread contamination of different ecosystems where it influences plants, microorganisms, animals and many components of the food chain.” You can find the full study at www.gmoevidence.com.
GLYPHOSATE ENHANCES GROWTH OF CARCINOGENIC FUNGUS
A new study reveals that Roundup herbicide enhances the growth of aflatoxin-producing fungi, lending an explanation for the alarming increase in fungal toxins recently discovered in U.S. corn, and revealing another way in which GMO farming is seriously undermining food quality.
The study may help to explain recent observations that GMO corn heavy markets, such as the U.S., have a significant aflatoxin problem. Aflatoxin is known to be one of the most carcinogenic substances in existence. The aflatoxin B1 strain is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as “Group 1, carcinogenic to humans,” with an LD50 (the dose that acutely kills 50 percent of a test group of rats) of 5mg/kg. Compare that to a 6.4 mg/kg LD50 for potassium cyanide, which is used in lethal injection.
The researchers discovered that glyphosate enhanced the growth of the aflatoxin-producing Apergillus fungus, and at concentrations lower than the range generally detected in soils destined for crop production.
The discovery that glyphosate enhances fungal growth contradicts several previous studies, including a 2007 study performed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which did not find that glyphosate increased Aspergillus flavus growth. The authors of the new study note that their findings are consistent with research on similar fungal strains, such as Fusarium, which possesses high tolerance to applied doses of glyphosate, and rust fungi and blight fungi, which exhibit enhanced growth on glyphosate-amended media.
NEWLY APPROVED GMOS RESIST SUPER-TOXIC HERBICIDES
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has quietly approved the first of a new generation of genetically engineered (GMO) crops resistant to herbicides even more toxic than glyphosate. The first crop to pass the low regulatory bar was a Bayer soybean variety genetically engineered to withstand direct application of the herbicide isoxaflutole (IFT), which according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a “probable human carcinogen.”
“Bayer’s new GMO soybeans represent the next wave in agricultural biotechnology-–crops that dramatically increase famers’ use of and dependence on toxic herbicides,” said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at Center for Food Safety (CFS).
IFT is presently a minor corn pesticide, used on just seven percent of the nation’s corn. In detailed scientific comments submitted to USDA, the Center for Food Safety projects at least a four-fold rise in national use of this toxic herbicide thanks to these new GMO soybeans, and a host of related human health and environmental harms.
Bayer is marketing the soybeans as a solution to massive weed resistance spawned by first-generation Roundup Ready crop systems sold by Monsanto.
IFT has many of the qualities that make a pesticide harmful: toxicity, persistence, presence in surface and groundwater sources of drinking water, and environmental impacts.
IFT is an EPA-designated “probable human carcinogen” based on induction of liver and thyroid tumors in rats, and liver tumors in mice that were fed low levels of the substance over time. It also exhibited developmental (fetal) toxicity in rabbits. IFT and its primary breakdown product DKN persist in the environment, and have been found in over three-fourths of samples tested from Iowa rivers. IFT is toxic to many aquatic organisms, and to wild plants and many crops (e.g. vegetables) that can be harmed by direct application, water contamination, or spray drift.
IFT is so toxic that its use in agriculture has been banned in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. “What’s so incredible is that the U.S. and world media have entirely missed the biotechnology industry’s game plan, even though the facts couldn’t be plainer,” said Freese.
“Generation One herbicide-resistant crops are Monsanto’s Roundup Ready varieties, resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. Skyrocketing use of glyphosate with these crops has made biological deserts of our fields,” said Freese.
Glyphosate has virtually wiped out milkweed, the Monarch butterfly host plant, in many Midwestern corn and soybean fields, and this is an important factor in the precipitous decline in Monarch populations in North America. Glyphosate formulations are extremely toxic to frogs, and likely one cause of the worldwide decline in amphibian populations.
“Roundup Ready crop systems have also driven an epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds found in half of farmers’ fields. These resistant weeds are now serving as pretext and marketing ploy to sell farmers on the new wave of ‘next-generation’ herbicide-resistant crops that fill the industry’s product pipeline,” added Freese.
“It’s quite ironic that supposedly ‘cutting-edge’ biotechnology is taking American agriculture a half-century and more backwards into a more toxic past,” Freese said.
Dow AgroSciences is awaiting USDA approval of 2,4-D-resistant corn and soybeans. 2,4-D is one of the oldest herbicides, introduced in the 1940s. It formed part of Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War. Medical scientists have linked 2,4-D exposure to an often fatal immune system cancer in farmers; and there is suggestive evidence linking 2,4-D and related chlorophenoxy herbicides to adverse reproductive impacts. CFS projects that 2,4-D use in agriculture will increase four-fold or more, to well over 100 million lbs. per year, if Dow’s crops are approved.
“It’s not only Dow. The pipeline includes Monsanto soybeans and cotton resistant to dicamba herbicide, which was introduced in the 1960s,” said Freese.
Epidemiological studies have found evidence linking dicamba to increased risk of cancer in farmers, while other studies show potential developmental and neurotoxicity.
BASF, another chemical company, has soybeans resistant to a class of herbicides known as imidazolinones, one member of which (imazethapyr) has been linked to bladder and colon cancer. Syngenta has soybeans resistant to HPPD inhibitors, a class of herbicides that includes isoxaflutole and which inhibit a liver enzyme with potentially toxic consequences. Most of these crops will come “stacked” with resistance to glyphosate and glufosinate.
“The biotech industry is bringing on a veritable ‘herbicide Armageddon,’ with ever increasing use of herbicides on GMO crops that will likely drive evolution of ever more intractable weeds resistant to multiple herbicides.
“Don’t listen to the industry hype,” Freese concluded. “Biotechnology means toxic, unsustainable agriculture. We need to evolve our agriculture beyond antiquated, pesticide-promoting GMO crops towards cutting-edge agroecological techniques for managing weeds instead of eradicating them. Organic agriculture is one path, low-input systems that minimize pesticide use is another.”
INCOME INEQUALITY WAY WORSE THAN YOU THINK
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Oh, the Irony of Calling It the Independent Women’s Forum
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On October 8, the Independent Women’s Forum and the Heritage Foundation sponsored a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., entitled, “Genetically Modified Foods: The Truth about Labeling.”
The thrust of the panel discussion was that those who want to see GMOs labeled are spreading “misinformation” and “confusing consumers.” As opposed to a free and open discussion about GMOs, the panel was set up to attack those who are demanding labeling. The press release announcing the panel discussion graphically shows that. Here’s what the press release said:
“This dynamic panel discussion will examine the history and science of genetically modified foods (or GMOs), their current use and benefits, and why GMO labeling is not only unnecessary but would also do a disservice to consumers. There is significant misinformation and confusion about GMOs, which now makes up a major part of the American diet. Anti-GMO activists are seeking to combat GMOs by pushing for labeling mandates on the state and federal levels. These mandates are being promoted as pro-consumer but their effect will be the opposite by creating greater misinformation.”
Well, I can understand why the Heritage Foundation, a well-known right wing arm of the billionaire’s club known as the Republican Party, would be behind this propaganda festival, but the Independent Women’s Forum? The press release describes this organization thusly:
“Independent Women’s Forum is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) research and educational institution dedicated to building awareness of the ways that women benefit from limited government, personal liberty, and economic freedom, and by countering those who seek to ever expand government in the name of protecting women.”
Wow. Sounds good. Who doesn’t want women to have “personal liberty” and “economic freedom?” Ah, but all is not what it seems. Might there be more to the picture?
Who really is the Independent Women’s Forum? I checked with SourceWatch, the online service that reveals who’s behind these ubiquitous front groups. According to SourceWatch:
“The Independent Women’s Forum is an anti-feminist organization predominately funded by conservative U.S. foundations, including the Koch brothers’ Claude R. Lambe Foundation. On its website, it describes its mission as being ‘to rebuild civil society by advancing economic liberty, personal responsibility, and political freedom. IWF builds support for a greater respect for limited government, equality under the law, property rights, free markets, strong families, and a powerful and effective national defense and foreign policy.’”
As an example of such support, an article by Sally Patel in IWF’s “scholarly”magazine, The Women’s Quarterly, stated that “the battered women’s movement has outlived its useful beginnings.” (Thank goodness there are no more battered women!) SourceWatch continues:
“Founded by Ricky Silberman in 1992, the IWF grew out of the ad hoc group, ‘Women for Judge (Clarence) Thomas.’ While claiming to challenge ‘radical feminists,’ IWF primarily targets mainstream feminists and feminist organizations, as exemplified by such figures as Hillary Rodham Clinton and such groups as the American Association of University Women.
“IWF is a secular counterpart to Religious Right women’s groups like Eagle Forum and Concerned Women for America, but these groups often work together. People for the American Way describe IWF as a group that ‘opposes affirmative action, gender equity programs like Title IX, and the Violence Against Women Act.
“IWF members include academic women who are paid to write papers that denigrate the idea of equity for girls and women in education. One of these papers, by Judith Kleinfeld, a professor of psychology at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, has questioned an MIT study on discrimination against women in MIT’s science department, calling its findings ‘junk science.’
“In May, 2010, IWF started supporting a group called ‘Balanced Education for Everyone,’ whose goal was to stop the teaching of global warming in U.S. schools. The group claimed teaching it scares children unnecessarily. The ‘Balanced’ group has since disbanded.
“IWF’s head Michelle Bernard has now re-emerged at the head of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics, and Public Policy. The Bernard Center’s website lists no donors, no history and no contact information other than a Post Office box in Potomac, Maryland. Analysts from the Bernard Center have written about ‘misguided’ food and nutrition policy, and the need for more charter schools.”
If any women reading this would like to tell the IWF what you think of this Koch brothers’ front group and its stance on women’s issues, you can contact Victoria Coley, Director of Communications, Independent Women’s Forum. Its website is www.iwf.org. Ms. Coley’s email address is email@example.com, and her cell is (443) 758-6077.
Finally, why is this information posted on a website devoted to organic food?
Okay, to answer that question, we first have to step back from this issue and take a more comprehensive look at our society. Think of our economy as a continent drained by major rivers and smaller tributaries. The rivers and tributaries run with money. The major rivers are segments of the economy like agriculture, manufacturing, energy, and finance. Major money flows down these rivers, and over the years, the smart and unscrupulous have found ways to dominate these money flows and turn their profits into their own bank accounts. The bigger they got, the less money there was for the people who created this flowing wealth. Finally, today, we have obscene wealth inequality. In the realm of agriculture and food processing, we have a system designed to maximize profits for giant corporations like Cargill and Monsanto; processing companies like Pepsi, Coke, and Kraft, and retailers like Safeway, Giant, and ShopRite. Conventional agriculture has crafted a system that maximizes profit and minimizes expenses—that is, the quality of their products is the least of their concerns. Their profits are enormous.
Organic agriculture has been, is now, and will be for the foreseeable future locked into a death struggle with conventional agriculture.
The billionaires who are behind the right-wing conservative political front groups are the power behind these abuses. They use their enormous profits to lie to the public about health issues and the safety and nutritional value of organic food. They are the powers behind Big Oil, Fracking, Big Ag, Big Biotech, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and the whole dirty system that has sickened America and the world. They are not just anti-feminist, or anti-women; they are pro-profit, and their anti-women stance simply supports that.
The dysfunctional government is their politics, the banksters loot our economy, America’s income inequality is their plan, Big Brother is here and he is watching us, our food system ruins the environment as it feeds us poisons, we imprison more people per capita than any other country in the world, our drones fly in countries around the world killing people, our citizens are armed to the teeth with weapons designed for the battlefield and the insane among us regularly start shooting, and there’s more.
In the face of all these problems there are bright spots. Organic food, grown and raised on clean, environmentally sound, and humane farms is one of the brightest. It’s all of a piece, don’t you see? In this next article, we glimpse part of the political piece of “the system,” and the rivers of money that support it.
It seems hard to believe, but our very way of life is under severe attack right now from those who have shut down the government and threaten economic default. It is very much a plot by the Koch brothers and their cronies to crash the system so they can gain the levers of power. Yes, it’s crazy. And if God’s in his or her heaven it won’t work, but push has come to shove. May our President stand strong and refuse to negotiate with those who have placed a grenade on the table with the threat that if they don’t get their way, they will set off the grenade.
When the dust settles, maybe Americans will come to see how Big Ag and Big Food have sickened us and ripped us off, just like the Tea party has done with our politics, and start supporting the organic farmers among us.
THOM HARTMANN PULLS THE LID OFF THE TEAPOT
The following is an excerpt from a recent article by Thom Hartmann, Progressive author and radio talk show host.
The Tea Party’s astroturf roots should have been obvious to anyone paying attention to their rallies. Back in 2009, for example, Americans for Prosperity, the pet-project of the oil-rich Koch Brothers, actually bussed Tea Party “activists” around the country to protest President Obama’s proposed healthcare law.
Margaret Thatcher, the UK’s conservative prime minister from 1979 to 1990, once said that “There is no such thing as society, there is only a collection of individuals.” A similar thing can be said about the Tea Party: there is no such thing as the Tea Party, only a collection of individual billionaires and their front groups.
And in January of 2010, five right-wing justices on the Supreme Court handed that collection of individual billionaires a big gift with their decision in the Citizens United case. Their decision declared money as speech and stripped the government of many of its powers to restrict corporate electioneering. The Supreme Court essentially gave the billionaires behind the Tea Party the power to hire their own army of politicians to wreak havoc in Congress, politicians who said they fought for “liberty,” but were really working in the interests of the corporate billionaire class.
That’s why the number of actual Tea Party “activists” has declined so quickly from the heady days of 2010. Now that the Kochs and their allies can buy their own lawmakers, they don’t really need any more of those spunky “activists” dressed in tri-corner hats or people to harass liberal politicians like they did back in 2009 and 2010. They can now count on people like Pete Sessions and Ted Cruz to do their bidding on Capitol Hill. Both received ample campaign donations from groups like the Club for Growth and Koch Industries.
And right now, those bought politicians are towing the “Billionaire Party” line to a T. They’ve shut down the government in what seems to be an attempt to sabotage Obamacare and prevent the media from informing Americans about how to use its insurance exchanges.
Make no mistake about it, this has always been the end goal of the Tea Party. It wants to destroy government’s ability to protect middle-class working people, pad the wallets of its billionaire sponsors, and erase the legacy of the New Deal.
But thankfully there’s an antidote.
And that antidote is rolling back the Supreme Court’s Citizens United doctrine that corporations are people and money is speech.
If we want to take back our hijacked democracy from the billionaires and their lackeys in Congress, then we need to take away their lifeblood: the uncontrolled flow of corporate money into our elections.
A FREE GMO MINI-SUMMIT
The Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT) has joined with food and sustainability activist John Robbins and his son, and with The Food Revolution Network (FRN) to bring you the first ever GMO Mini-Summit.
They’ve gathered experts, researchers, and activists to share what they’ve uncovered about this pivotal topic during a three-day online summit, and it’s happening October 25-27.
Learn about studies that reveal the health effects of GMOs and Roundup on animals, humans and the environment; what doctors and scientists are really saying about GMOs in relation to allergies, autism, and leaky gut; how to help your family eat healthier and avoid GMOs; ways to get involved and become active in furthering the GMO labeling and tipping point efforts.
The summit is free to listen in, and will be offered for purchase so you can tune in at leisure and share with others. If you’re interested, visit this website: http://gmosummit.org/?orid=89790&opid=56
WASHINGTON COURT RULES AGAINST MOMS FOR LABELING
Unlike California, where giant junk food companies like Pepsi, Coke, Kellogg’s, Kraft, and General Mills made their donations public by donating outright to the opposition to the labeling of genetically modified food ingredients, in Washington, these “trusted” American brands are secretly bundling their donations and giving them to the Grocery Manufacturers Association in an effort to launder the money and hide how much they’re willing to give to kill GMO labeling. (The answer is over $17 million so far.)
In an effort to get to the bottom of this campaign deception, a group of local Washington moms has filed a suit against the GMA to find out who was paying big money to manipulate public opinion.
Rather than comply with Washington election law and reveal their donors, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the NO on 522 campaigns filed a countersuit against the Washington mom’s group, Moms for Labeling.
Last week, in a perversion of justice, a Washington judge sided with Monsanto and the GMA and ruled against the moms, slapping them with a $10,000 fine.
In other words, how dare mothers who want to know what they are feeding their children demand to find out? Shut up, moms. Sit down. Back to your kitchens and your nurseries. Stop asking questions. And pony up $10,000 to give to Monsanto and the food polluters for the trouble you put them through.
It’s enough to make you sick to your stomach.
My Quest for a Non-GMO Corn Tortilla
On nights when we don’t have a lot of time to cook, our go-to default dinners are tacos. We look around the fridge for some meat—usually organic chicken I’ve cooked out on the gas grill—plus some tomatillo salsa, onion, tomato, lettuce, cilantro, grated cheese, black beans heated and mashed, a minced jalapeno, and some salsa picante like Melinda’s habanero sauce.
For the tortillas, we’ve been buying Mi Rancho’s organic corn tortillas, but recently I started thinking back to my days in Rockland County, New York, living the hippie life, and how Carlos Pena made wonderful, puffy tortillas on his kitchen stove from scratch.
At that time, the only Mexican grocery store anywhere near us was an hour away, on 14th Street in Manhattan. It offered our only source of masa harina—the nixtamalized corn flour used to make tortilla dough. Carlos had a tortilla press, a simple contraption he used to press out the flat circles of dough he flipped into a pan. As they cooked, they puffed up like pita breads do. We loaded them with whatever we had on hand and fed our multitudes well. So, I thought, why not make my own tortillas from scratch again, like we did at Carlos and Barbara’s house in the late 1960s?
Except now, there’s a problem. About 95 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. is Monsanto’s GMO corn. I sure didn’t want to make my tortillas from that crap. Big bags of Manseca masa in Lola’s—my local Mexican supermarket here in Santa Rosa, California–weren’t organic, so no guarantee there that the corn wasn’t GMO. I bought a tortilla press for $12 but not the flour. Over at my local Whole Foods, the only masa harina with a chance of being organic was Golden Masa Harina Corn Flour from Bob’s Red Mill in Oregon; so, with hope in my heart, I bought a one-pound bag.
At home, I went online to Bob’s Red Mill’s website, where I found that Bob’s says the corn is organic, but because it’s soaked in lime before being dried and ground, it can’t be labeled as such. Soaking the corn kernels in lime water is called nixtamalization, and it changes the amino acid profile of the corn, making its lysine and tryptophan amino acids more available, resulting in a greater abundance of niacin—the shortage of which causes a terrible disease called pellagra. Nixtamalization was discovered by Mexico’s native populations thousands of years ago. Pellagra can be common in people who obtain most of their food energy from corn, notably people who live in rural Central and South America, where corn is a staple food. If corn is not nixtamalized, it is a poor source of lysine and tryptophan, thus of niacin. If the national organic rules say that nixtamalization disallows corn that’s grown organically from being labeled organic, than the rules are wrong and need to be changed. There’s nothing un-organic about soaking corn kernels in water that contains wood ashes—as the Native Americans did—or in lime water, which is just naturally occurring calcium carbonate—limestone—that is already allowed as a soil and compost ingredient under the national organic rules.
Back in the day, we’d line our tortilla press with cellophane or plastic bread bags cut open, but I thought I’d be a bit more modern, and slit open and trimmed a one-gallon zip-lock freezer bag that has a little more substance to its plastic. You don‘t put a ball of dough directly on the press, or it will likely stick to the pressing surfaces and make a mess.
Making the dough involved adding about 1 1/8th cup of filtered water and a half or quarter teaspoon of salt to a cup and a three quarters of masa harina. Add the salt to the masa in a large bowl, then add the water a bit at a time, stirring well as you go. When the dough is together, knead it by hand for about five to seven minutes, until the dough is smooth. If the dough is too wet, it will spread out too thinly and stick to the plastic, if it’s too dry it will make a crumbly tortilla. When it’s just right, it makes a smooth paste that easily forms a non-sticky ball in your hands. It may take a little fiddling with the dough until you learn what is right.
Make the dough into balls just a tiny bit larger than a golf ball. The plastic bag is placed so that one half is laid on the bottom of the press. The dough goes on that, then the other half of the plastic is brought over and laid on the dough. Then you place the top plate of the press on top of the top piece of plastic, grab the lever and press it down. Use medium pressure—too much pressure will make a thin tortilla that may stick to the plastic. It’s perfect when the lever just touches the stop on the press, without you exerting hard pressure.
Get a cast iron griddle or skillet and rub the cooking surface with a few drops of canola oil. Get the pan medium hot before putting in the first tortilla. Too hot will burn the tortilla, too cool and it will take forever to cook. Lift the handle and top of the tortilla press and take the plastic “sandwich” with the tortilla in the center, and open the plastic, turning it over so the tortilla itself lies against the palm of one of your hands. Peel off the plastic with your other hand. A nice 5- or 6-inch tortilla should now be free.
Place the tortilla in the pan and cook for 50-60 seconds, then with a spatula, flip it and cook for another 50 or 60 seconds. It should be nice and hot, and fragrant as well, with a smell like roasting corn or popcorn cooking. If your masa harina is ground fine enough, the tortilla may puff up. Unfortunately for me, Bob’s Mill masa is not ground fine enough to puff. It makes a tasty tortilla, but it’s a non-puffer.
The tortillas fresh off the griddle or skillet should be immediately given a simple filling of whatever kind of taco you want. Have all fillings ready to roll as the tortillas come out of the pan. Don’t overload the taco with fillings. A few used with restraint make a better taco than one overloaded and dripping with juices from the salsas and other wet ingredients.
Many people like to make their tacos with two tortillas placed together and then given the fillings. I do that because there’s less chance of the tortillas disintegrating from the wet ingredients and I also get more of the good fresh corn flavor. If you want to use two, buy a tortilla basket and pop the first one in there to keep toasty warm while the second one is cooking. You want fresh hot tortillas for your wonderful, home-made, organic tacos.
Here’s a list of ingredients typically used to make tacos—but of course not all at once. You might set all these out if feeding a lot of guests so people can pick and choose among the ingredients. Make sure all ingredients—especially the tortillas—are organic. If you’re making fish tacos from ocean fish, the fish won’t be organic because wild caught fish are not allowed the organic label by law. But wild caught fish like sole, halibut, or sea bass are always preferable to farmed fish.
Finely chopped Romaine lettuce
Chopped and drained tomatoes
Chopped onions, either raw or cooked until golden
Black beans drained, heated, and mashed
Carnitas—cubed (1/4 to ½ inch) boneless pork fried in a little oil
Chopped jalapenos, serranos, or—if you’re crazy—habaneros
Battered and fried fish
Queso cheese, or grated parmesan or feta
Carne asada—grilled and thinly sliced beefsteak
Chicken breast sliced and cooked in a little oil in a pan until done
You can always add anything you like or subtract anything you don’t like, but to learn what you favor the most, patronize those taco trucks you see being thronged at dinnertime by the Latin community. Their tacos are usually excellent and inexpensive, and will give you an idea of the right proportion of filling ingredients to tortillas.
Home-made organic tacos are a great way to feed friends and family really tasty food for not very much money.
GUESS WHO’S MONSANTO FRIENDLY AFTER ALL
Katherine Paul and Alexis Baden-Mayer wrote the following extremely important and enlightening article for the Organic Consumers Association website for September 25, 2013. For related articles and more information, please visit the Association’s “Millions Against Monsanto” page and “Politics and Democracy” page at www.organicconsumers.org.
While consumers battle on for laws mandating the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food products, some lawmakers are taking the GMO labeling debate in a different direction. And it’s a direction that’s anything but consumer friendly.
Last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) asked the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to finalize its 2001 guidance on voluntary labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The senators advertised their request as a move intended to benefit consumers. But in fact, a federal voluntary labeling plan plays right into the hands of the biotech and big food industries.
How? Worst-case scenario, once the FDA finalizes its GMO labeling guidance, industry uses the FDA guidance to preempt state laws requiring mandatory labeling of GMOs. Currently, states have the right to enact GMO labeling laws precisely because the FDA has not formally ruled on GMO labeling.
Second, the FDA’s guidance on voluntary GMO labeling could be used to put an end to existing, legitimate voluntary non-GMO labeling efforts. By allowing the FDA, which has previously (and controversially) ruled that GMO and non-GMO foods are “substantially equivalent,” the FDA could rule against non-GMO or GMO-free labels on the basis that they mislead consumers by implying that there’s a difference between GMO and non-GMO foods.
On August 22, Sen. Warren and Sen. Udall sent a joint letter to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration urging the agency “. . . to finalize its guidance document on labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) marketed as food or food additives…We encourage the FDA to implement a regulatory framework that will promote transparency for consumers while providing producers with the certainty they need to label their products appropriately.”
Coming from Sen. Warren, whose reputation as a staunch consumer advocate is near-legendary, the letter to the FDA looks like another example of the Massachusetts senator going to bat for consumers – specifically, the 93 percent of Americans who want mandatory GMO labeling laws.
Until you take a closer look.
The 2001 Guidance Document, 00D-1598, that Warren and Udall reference in their letter is intended to provide guidance for voluntary labeling, not the mandatory labeling consumers are fighting for. Yet nowhere in the letter to the FDA, or in the press release issued by Warren’s office, does the word “voluntary” appear.
Oversight? Or did Senators Warren and Udall intentionally omit the word “voluntary” in the hope that consumers wouldn’t notice?
Senators Warren and Udall both refused to support federal legislation that would have required mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs. Both also voted against an amendment to the farm bill that would have protected states’ rights to label GMOs.
Are Senators Warren and Udall simply misinformed on the merits of voluntary labeling versus mandatory labeling? Or have they joined the cast of lawmakers toiling behind the scenes on behalf of Monsanto, not consumers?
Monsanto likes to cry “unfair” when it comes to the issue of state GMO labeling laws. The biotech giant has even threatened to sue states that attempt to pass their own GMO labeling laws, on the basis that state labeling laws violate interstate commerce rules, which makes them illegal.
Despite Monsanto’s yet-untested threats, current law supports states’ rights to enact their own food labeling laws, as long as two conditions are met. First, the state must produce compelling evidence that the law is needed to protect the health or safety of citizens. And second, there must be no pre-existing FDA regulation governing the label in question.
State GMO labeling laws currently meet those conditions. But that could change if the FDA heeds Senators Warren’s and Udall’s call to finalize its 2001 guidance on voluntary GMO labeling. And industry knows it.
Increasingly, retailers see the wisdom (read marketing advantage) of voluntarily labeling products that contain GMOs. Whole Foods Market earlier this year that its stores would label GMOs by 2018. Consumers have no problem with retailers who voluntarily label GMO products in their stores. Nor do they have a problem with manufacturers who subject their products to GMO testing and have them certified by a third party, such as the Non-GMO Project.
But a voluntary labeling scheme written by the biotech industry-friendly FDA? That’s a whole other ball of wax.
Here’s our first clue that FDA guidance on GMO labeling won’t address consumer concerns. The “solution” proposed by Senators Warren and Udall has the support of industry, including the International Dairy Foods Association, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a big funder of campaigns in California and Washington aimed at defeating state GMO labeling laws.
Monsanto itself has publicly endorsed the FDA’s 2001 guidance on voluntary labeling, in a statement published on the company’s website.
And no wonder. The FDA has a history of using food labeling guidance to promote industry’s interests over those of consumers.
Case in point. In 1990, the FDA declared recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), a genetically engineered hormone used to increase milk production in dairy cows, safe. In 1993, the FDA gave Monsanto the green light to use rBGH.
Consumers, influenced by studies citing health risks associated with rBGH, raised a stink. Some milk producers responded to consumer concerns by refusing to use the hormone. They also began marketing their products as rBGH-free.
That didn’t sit well with Monsanto, which saw consumer demand for rBGH-free milk as a threat to its bottom line. The biotech giant complained to the FDA that rBGH-free labels were misleading because, after all, the FDA had ruled that GMO and non-GMO foods were “substantially equivalent.”
The FDA compromised. Under the 1994 Food Labeling Guidance, the FDA said it would allow rBGH-free labels on dairy products, but only on the condition that the label also stated that there was “no significant difference” between milk produced using rBGH and milk produced without the hormone.
Not satisfied with the FDA’s ruling, rBGH-free dairies took Monsanto and the FDA to court. They won by proving that milk produced with rBGH is compositionally different than milk produced without the hormone.
But the courts and consumers could face a much higher climb when it comes to challenging the FDA on “GMO-free” labels. If the FDA heeds the call to finalize its 2001 guidance on voluntary labeling of GMOs, it could spell the end of GMO-free labeling. And that would leave consumers with no mandatory labeling, and no reliable voluntary labeling.
Here’s why. According to the FDA’s yet-to-be finalized 2001 guidance, “genetic modification” means the alteration of the genotype of a plant through the use of any technique, new or traditional. The word ‘modification,” says the FDA, covers a broad range of activities that could result in a change in the composition of food, including adding, deleting or altering hereditary traits.
Under those guidelines, most, if not all, cultivated crops have been genetically modified – though not necessarily through bioengineering technology. So, by the FDA’s reasoning, any label that includes the word “modified” – as in “not genetically modified” or “GMO-free” – is technically inaccurate, unless used clearly in a context that refers to bioengineering technology. Moreover, the term “GMO free” may be misleading on most foods, according to the FDA, because most foods do not contain organisms (seeds and foods like yogurt that contain microorganisms are exceptions). Again, by that reasoning, it would likely be misleading to suggest that a food that ordinarily would not contain entire “organisms” is “organism-free.”
And there’s more. The FDA says that any label suggesting that a food was not bioengineered or does not contain “bioengineered ingredients” could be considered misleading if it implies that the labeled food is superior to foods that are not labeled GMO-free. Again, based on its previous ruling that there GMO and non-GMO foods are “substantially equivalent.”
Bottom line? If the FDA finalizes its guidance on voluntary GMO labeling, where does that leave consumers? Right where they are now. In the dark.
Katherine Paul is director of communications and development for the Organic Consumers Association. Alexis Baden-Mayer is political director for the Organic Consumers Association.
HOW TO CREATE SUPERWEEDS? USE MORE HERBICIDES
The following article is from our friends at Just Label It (www.justlabelit.org).
An article titled,“What Happens When Weed Killers Stop Killing?” in Science magazine for September 20, 2013, ad this summary: “Farmers in the United States are heading for a crisis. In parts of the country, weeds resistant to the world’s most popular herbicide, glyphosate, now grow in the vast majority of soybean, cotton, and corn fields. Weeds that can shrug off multiple other herbicides are also on the rise. At an American Chemical Society symposium, chemists said they have little to offer: Few new weed killers are near commercialization, and none with a novel molecular mode of action for which there is no resistance.”
More than fifteen years ago, when the first herbicide-tolerant GE crops were planted in U.S. soil, some experts warned that the technology would accelerate the development of superweeds that would be resistant to the herbicides used with the crops. They were right. Superweeds, which evolve to withstand the very chemicals designed to kill them, have now become an epidemic on farmland in many locations across the country.
The most common superweeds are resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s popular herbicide Roundup, but resistance is appearing to herbicides used with other GE crops as well. Today, more than 61.2 million acres of U.S. farmland are infested with weeds resistant to Roundup, which has been the world’s best-selling weed killer for 32 years.
As weeds became resistant, growers have applied still more herbicides to try to control them. A recent study found that over the years from 1996 to 2011, the use of GE crops increased herbicide use by 527 million pounds, putting consumers and the environment increasingly at risk.
The emergence of glyphosate-resistant superweeds has led growers to turn to older herbicides such as dicamba and 2,4-D, an ingredient used in Agent Orange, the notorious Vietnam War era defoliant, resulting in the emergence of weed species that are resistant to multiple chemicals. Both dicamba and 2,4-D are volatile chemicals that evaporate and can drift well beyond their targets, especially in warmer weather, posing a significant public health risk to nearby rural communities.
The strategy of combating weeds by engineering crops that can withstand herbicides and then blasting fields with those chemicals is no match for evolutionary adaptation, as demonstrated by the rapid growth of superweeds across the country. This approach leads to a dangerous, toxic dead end, one that will leave the landscape infested ever more varieties of resistant superweeds while and undermining efforts at safe, sustainable farming.
Additionally the superweed epidemic affects each farmer’s bottom line. According to the article in Science, “for cotton grown in the South, the cost of using herbicides has climbed from between $50 and $75 per hectare a few years ago to about $370 per hectare today.” The need to apply more and more herbicides will continue to make farmers’ costs skyrocket, making this practice profoundly unsustainable.
Dow, Bayer CropScience, Syngenta, and Monsanto are all developing new seed varieties resistant to herbicides other than glyphosate, which will make it easier for farmers to use alternative weed killers. However, Science magazine acknowledges a bleak future for farmers that continue to rely heavily on the seed and herbicide combo. “If there is an overreliance on them, they will fail and fail rapidly.”
There is no question that GE technology will continue to drive up the costs of food production, increase the use of harmful chemicals and undermine efforts for a sustainable food system. We as citizens need the right to choose if we want to support this disastrous scenario.