Fast-Tracked Decision Allowing GE Canola Poses Immediate Threat to Oregon Organic Industry
Until Aug. 10, Willamette Valley’s organic farmers and seed producers were protected from the planting and cross-pollination of their crops by genetically engineered (GE) canola. However, new rules, fast-tracked without public comment by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA)—announced Aug. 3 and effective only one week later—now allow for the planting of GE canola in areas previously deemed off-limits.
ODA Director Katy Coba states in the department’s press release, “Since canola has been deregulated by USDA, ODA does not differentiate between conventional and GM canola or treat them differently.” Given that 93 percent of U.S planted canola crops are genetically modified, this move represents a large threat to the integrity of Oregon’s internationally recognized organic seed industry. The new rules are temporary for 180 days, but ODA plans to propose and implement permanent rules before the temporary ones expire. The department will begin accepting public input once the permanent rules are proposed, but by then the canola will already be in the ground.
ODA’s decision is a dramatic shift from its previous policy on canola planting in the valley. The previous regulation, ORS 603-052-0880(2) stated, “Production of rapeseed for oil or seed is incompatible with production of crops of the same or related species grown for seed or vegetables.” An Oregon State University report, Outcrossing Potential for Brassica Species and Implications for Vegetable Crucifer Seed Crops of Growing Oilseed Brassicas in the Willamette Valley, endorses this point. The study confirms that canola has the ability to hybridize with radish, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, collards and kale crops.
Moreover, the report states, “Genetically modified canola presents the greatest risk to vegetable crucifer seed crops. Although it is very unlikely that transgenes would persist once transferred to the seed crop, the presence of the gene would make the seed crop unsuitable for markets that have strict tolerances on GMO contamination.”
Many organic seed crops are grown in the fertile alluvial plains of the Willamette Valley. Since organic standards do not permit the production of genetically modified crops, organic seed farmers may be imperiled by ODAs decision. Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seed, an organic seed production company located in Philomath, Ore., said in an article in the Eugene Weekly, “If we are to continue to exist, we have to resist the introduction of canola in the valley.”
ODA argues that their authority does not extend to protecting agriculture from market-based threats or concerns. The new rules would “refine” the boundaries of restricted planting areas and require an electronic pinning system for planted canola crops. ODA’s Director Coba states, “Producers are encouraged to communicate with each other and work together to provide the necessary isolation to protect specialty seed crops while allowing canola production.” To this assessment Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seed responds, “That’s sort of like asking someone for permission to have a camel sleep in your bed,” he says. “It’s not collaboration if you have a gun held to your head.”
Oregon State University’s report indicates that a 1.2 mile distance between canola crops and seed fields is needed to minimize cross-pollination. While the pinning maps should make it easier to maintain that distance, they cannot account for other variables. The report explains, “The two greatest threats are canola seed blown from vehicles onto road shoulders and volunteers in fields previously planted to canola. Detecting and eliminating volunteers from a 2-kilometer [1.2 mile] radius around a seed field would be onerous and perhaps impossible.” This is very disconcerting news for the seed capital of the U.S.
Beyond Pesticides has long-documented the negative effects of genetic cross- contamination. In July of this year, we joined with farmers and environmental groups across the country to appeal a February court ruling dismissing Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al v. Monsanto. The plaintiffs in this case are suing preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should their crop ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically engineered seed, something Monsanto has done to others in the past.
Genetic contamination of organic crops by pollen that originates from genetically engineered crops and drifts onto neighboring fields has been incontrovertibly confirmed by scientific research. Such contamination has proven extremely costly to farmers raising organic and non-genetically engineered crops whose loads are rejected by buyers when trace levels of contamination are detected. Farmers in these circumstances lose any potential price premium for the extra effort and expense taken to preserve their crop’s integrity and they typically have no recourse but to dump the load on generic markets. Under the current interpretation of relevant law, genetic seed producers bear no legal or financial responsibility for such contamination.
In an effort to get the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to act on this issue, in its spring 2012 meeting, the National Organic Standards Board, with a unanimous vote, sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack saying, “We see the potential of contamination by genetically engineered crops as a critical issue for organic agricultural producers and the consumers of their products. There are significant costs to organic producers and handlers associated with preventing this contamination and market loss arising from it.”
USDA is still accepting public comment on twelve petitions for new genetically engineered crops until Sept. 11.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
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