By Elena Day
Chipotle restaurants announced April 27 that it planned to exclude all genetically modified foods (GMO’s/ GM foods) from its menu. In the following days editorials appeared in newspapers across the country criticizing Chipotle’s decision. The Washington Post accused the chain of capitulating to the “scare tactics” of the anti-GMO lobby to increase burrito sales. The L.A. Times wrote that Chipotle has joined “the ranks of companies that endeavor to deceive the public” and that “excessive caution, such as that exhibited by Chipotle, is not sound policy.”
According to a survey by the Pew Research Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 88 percent of scientists believe that GM foods are safe to eat. However, only 37 percent of the public believes that GM foods are safe. In poll after poll, 90 percent of the U.S. public wants GMO’s labeled. Citizens John and Jane want to make their own decisions regarding what they care to eat and they might prefer “excessive caution” regarding foods available in the grocery aisles.
To safeguard the profits of Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, BASF and Bayer, it is apparent that the role of the U.S. press is to “manufacture consent” (think Noam Chomsky) for GMO’s. It routinely ridicules public concerns regarding labeling insisting that public hysteria would ensue regarding GM foods.
European scientists may not be so convinced about GMO safety. In the European Union, numerous states and regions including Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, Luxembourg, Greece, Poland and Italy have banned GMO crops.
Note that Syngenta is a Swiss-based crop chemical giant. BASF and Bayer are German chemical multinationals. In the EU, where mandatory labeling laws are in effect, there are few GMO’s on the market other than imported GMO animal feed. Russia, India, and Australia have also banned GMO crops.
Currently 64 nations require mandatory GMO labeling. In addition, El Salvador and Sri Lanka have begun to ban the use of Monsanto’s Roundup.
Yet here in the nation reputed to be the world’s first democracy (Athens was a city state.). …
In the United States, Monsanto’s Roundup/glyphosate is routinely sprayed on 84 percent of our corn, soy, cotton, sugar beets, and canola/rapeseed. The other crop chemical giants have some market share and in fact are marketing “glyphosate plus” products (read “Agent Orange cocktail”) as more and more weeds become resistant to Roundup/glyphosate. Note that glyphosate is increasingly sprayed on wheat, beans, potatoes, barley, oats, flax, peas, lentils and sugar cane as a pre-harvest dessicant.
In 2014, Vermont passed a law to require labeling of GMO’s. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, The Snack Food Association and others filed suit. On April 27 a Vermont judge ruled that Vermont has a constitutional right to require labels on GM foods. The Vermont law will be implemented as passed in July 2016. The suit may still go to trial, however. Food labeling bills are currently moving through the Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine legislatures.
Congressional members meanwhile are seeking to pass a law to disallow states and localities to require labeling of GM food. Mandatory labeling could occur only if the Food and Drug Administration found a GMO to be unsafe. (See H.R. 4432, sponsored by Pompeo (R-KA) and Butterfield (R-NC), also known as the “Denying Americans the Right to Know Act.”) Mandatory labeling would end up an unlikely scenario since government agencies are generally on board with industry and a revolving door between corporate boards and government agencies has been the norm for many decades.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently ruled that it would begin testing for Roundup/glyphosate residues in food. In 2013 EPA had raised the allowable glyphosate limits for foodstuffs. Allowable limits in canola and soy oils went up from 20 parts per million (ppm) to 40 ppm. As for tubers and roots, allowable amounts were raised from 0.2 ppm to 6.0 ppm, even though the Institute for Science in Society had documented that 2.03 ppm has caused malformations in frog and chicken embryos. There are no Precautionary Principle applications found herein.
In the final days of April Monsanto proposed a takeover of Syngenta. Monsanto is the largest seed company in the world with 26 percent of the seed market. It dominates industrial GM corn and soy agriculture. Syngenta is the largest crop chemical company worldwide and it and DuPont are not far behind Monsanto as seed marketers.
This is alarming, especially in light of an article about seed libraries brought to my attention by an Ivy resident and backyard gardener. There is apparently a growing seed library movement. In 2010 there were a dozen or so seed libraries. Today, with the growing interest in local food production and concerns regarding corporate control of our food system, there are over 400 community seed libraries. These seed-sharing libraries have recently come onto the radar screen of state and federal agriculture departments in a number of states, including Pennsylvania and Minnesota. The Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture shut down a town seed-lending library invoking the possibility of “agri-terrorism” and failure to comply with the 2004 Seed Act, which requires that each packet be tested for germination rate and whether the seed is true to type. Legislative battles may be pending across the U.S. as state and federal agriculture departments seek to enforce expensive regulatory protocols designed for commercial seed companies.
Although not a seed library, Common Wealth Seed Growers, located in Louisa, understands that seed preservation has been and is fundamental to survival in human history. Prior to the so-called post-WWII “Green Revolution” of the 1940s, seeds were generally regionally adapted and open pollinated. Farmers and gardeners saved and shared seeds. Thomas Jefferson’s garden diary is filled with references and documentation of seed exchanges.
Today few of us save seeds, having abdicated that most important responsibility to industrial agriculture companies. These companies sell us open pollinated varieties and hybrids (F1 generation) for which there is proprietary control. Hybrid seed, if saved, is not uniform, having the traits of one or the other parent or just about anything in between. (F1 offspring are referred to as the F2 generation.) Their biggest market, of course, is the “frankenseeds” or GMO’s developed in labs splicing DNA from unrelated organisms into plants. Farmers whose seed stock has been contaminated by genetic drift have been sued for possessing the proprietary genetics developed in a Monsanto laboratory.
The chemical/crop companies have no commercial interest in sustainable or organic local production. Instead the goal is to maximize profits by breeding and patenting crops that rely on the toxic pesticides/chemicals that they also sell. (Beware the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiated in secret, especially in regard to the Intellectual Property section apparently written for and by Monsanto, et al. Write Obama to tell him to reveal the full text of this agreement to the U.S. public.)
The Common Wealth Seed Growers are committed to growing open pollinated seeds. Much of our open pollinated seeds are grown where climate suits seed production, like the Pacific Northwest or Israel. The Louisa growers seek to grow seeds that are regionally adapted and resistant to pests and diseases common to our area.
In particular they seek to grow varieties of cucumber, melon, squash, gourd and watermelon that are resistant to the fungus Cucurbit Downy Mildew. Pseudoperonospora cubensis must overwinter on cucurbits in areas without hard frosts like South Florida. It blows north on the wind and has become a late season problem for cucumber and squash growers, especially in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic since 2004. North Carolina State University has a Curcubit Downy Mildew Forecast website (beginning March 23) that tracks outbreaks as the disease moves north.
Regionally adapted open pollinated seeds are integral to local agriculture. “Heirlooms” are seeds adapted to the local climate and thereby more resistant to the particular pests and diseases of the geographic locality. Without local growth and storage of heirlooms it is likely that corporations and/or government will come to control most or all seed distribution. Both these entities are made up of humans, but both often seem to forget their humanity and connectivity to the natural world. Hats off to the Common Wealth Seed Growers!