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Of all the genetic engineers who have renounced the technology—Arpad Pusztai, Belinda Martineau, Thierry Vrain and John Fagan, among others—because of its shortsighted approach and ability to produce unintended and potentially toxic consequences, Caius Rommens' story may be the most compelling.
By Ken Roseboro
Consumer advocates and non-GMO food experts have criticized the non-GMO certification of Cargill's EverSweet sweetener by NSF's Non-GMO True North program because the product is derived from a genetically engineered yeast and should be considered a GMO.
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The film is based on the true story of Percy Schmeiser, a canola farmer from Saskatchewan, Canada who was sued by agriculture giant Monsanto over patent infringement in 1998.
By Dan Nosowitz
The agricultural company J.R. Simplot Company, one of the largest potato producers in the world, struck a deal with the developers of a specific gene editing technology. That tech will allow Simplot to precisely edit the genomes of crops for various reasons: longer shelf life, drought resistance, aesthetic changes like a potato that doesn't brown when it's cut and exposed to oxygen.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final environmental impact statement Wednesday giving the green light to genetically engineered (GE) creeping bentgrass, a highly invasive grass genetically engineered by Monsanto and Scotts to withstand what would normally be a fatal dose of the herbicide glyphosate.
Decades-old outdoor experiments have proven the novel grass impossible to control, as it escaped from "controlled" plots and invaded irrigation ditches, river banks and the Crooked River National Grassland, crowding out native plants and the wildlife that depends on them. Despite more than a decade of efforts and millions of dollars, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Scotts and Monsanto have been unable to exterminate the escapes. Now the USDA has granted the industry's request that it relinquish any authority over the GE grass.
"USDA's approval of this genetically engineered grass is as dangerous as it is unlawful," said George Kimbrell, a senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety. "The agency is giving Monsanto and Scotts a free pass for the harm their product has already caused farmers and the environment and is irresponsibly gambling future harm on nothing more than their empty promises."
The GE bentgrass has already illegally contaminated at least three counties and the ultralight grass seeds and pollen have proven impossible to eradicate. Farmers and noxious weed experts in eastern Oregon have been outspoken critics of the proposal to approve the grass. In response to widespread contamination, GE creeping bentgrass was declared a noxious weed in Malheur County in 2016. With this approval responsibility for controlling the contamination now shifts from USDA, Scotts and Monsanto to become solely the problem of individual farmers and landowners.
"It just tears me up to think about the environmental and economic havoc this grass could wreak upon our community," said Jerry Erstrom, farmer and chairman of the Malheur County weed board. "The USDA has ignored the concerns of farmers in the areas affected by the existing contamination. I just can't believe that they will turn this loose and let Scotts and Monsanto walk away from what they did here."
Unlike USDA the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recognized the danger of the novel GE grass and its likelihood of spreading out of control, concluding that if approved it is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the endangered Willamette daisy and Bradshaw's lomatuim and harm the critical habitat of the endangered Fender's blue butterfly and Willamette daisy.
"This outrageous decision by regulators to ignore the ongoing harm to Oregon farmers, endangered species and the precious landscape we all share is a disturbing reminder that federal regulators don't primarily serve taxpayers and citizens, but rather the wishes of corporations like Monsanto and Scotts," said Lori Ann Burd, director of the environmental health program at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Those of us dedicated to protecting Oregon's natural resources will explore all legal options necessary to place the burden of controlling this invasive weed back where it belongs—on the shoulders of the corporate profiteers who brought it into the world."
By Jason Best
Consumers seeking to satisfy their salty snack cravings sans genetically modified ingredients may soon have to get savvier about scouting out chips and other products made without the use of GMO potatoes.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture formally approved two new types of genetically engineered potatoes.iStock
This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture formally approved two new types of genetically engineered potatoes, both of which were developed by Simplot, the Idaho-based spud giant. (A third GMO variety was previously approved by the department). Now, pending what amounts to a fairly cursory review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the company expects all three GMO strains to be available to farmers for planting next spring.
It's hardly an exaggeration to say that over the past two decades, the agriculture industry in the U.S. has wholeheartedly embraced GMO crops with gusto. Almost all of the soy and corn grown in the U.S.—upwards of 90 percent for both crops—is genetically modified. Same goes for canola. More than half of sugar beets are also grown from GMO seeds.
The same cannot be said for potatoes. Indeed, field tests of an early GMO potato variety sparked one of the first protests against the technology back in the late 1980s and the industry remained largely GMO-free. It was just last year that the potato industry began planting a GMO variety on a commercial scale, a cultivar also developed by Simplot and named White Russet.
The three new varieties—Ranger Russet, Atlantic and Russet Burbank—all follow that first generation in that they are designed to minimize bruising and black spots, as well as reduce the amount of a chemical that is potentially carcinogenic that develops when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures. The trio of 2.0 cultivars have also been engineered to resist the pathogen that causes late blight, the disease that led to the great Irish potato famine in the mid-19th century and for "enhanced cold storage," a trait that may be of particular interest to potato chip makers, according to The Associated Press.
"We obviously are very proud of these," a Simplot spokesperson told the AP. The company says it only used genes from other potatoes to create its GMO varieties, such as a gene from an Argentine potato that yields a natural defense to blight.
As agro-tech companies have done since the dawn of the GMO revolution, Simplot is touting a promise that its GMO spuds will allow farmers to dramatically reduce the amount of chemical pesticides they're forced to spray—in this case, by up to 45 percent. Maybe so. But there are signs that public skepticism against such claims is growing ever more widespread, like the fact that the damning results of a New York Times investigation published last weekend under the not-so-subtle headline Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops shot to the top of the newspaper's list of most-emailed articles.
The Times takes to task two of the biotech industry's dominant claims about the need for GMO crops: First, that genetic modification is essential if we're going to grow enough food to feed the planet's burgeoning population, and second, that by engineering crops to resist common pests while withstanding application of herbicides, those crops would in turn require fewer dangerous chemical inputs.
Well, it's been 20 years since Monsanto and other companies rolled out their first GMO crops on a wide scale. So how has it all worked out? The Times compared crop yields and agrochemical use in Canada and the U.S.—where, as mentioned, GMO crops are widely grown—with those in Western Europe, where greater public hostility toward the technology led to many GMO crops being banned. The investigation found farmers in North America seem to have "gained no discernible advantage in yields" through their adoption of genetically engineered crops. Yet herbicide use among U.S. farmers has risen by 21 percent; in France it has fallen by 36 percent. Although use of insecticides and fungicides has indeed dropped by a third in the U.S., it has fallen by more than double that rate in France.
As you might expect, the biotech industry strongly disputes the Times analysis, saying it relies on "cherry-picked data." Yet even Matin Qaim—an independent academic at the University of Göttingen in Germany whose work Monsanto and other companies often cite to buttress their claims—offered an assessment that wasn't exactly aligned with the industry's PR spin: "I don't consider this to be the miracle type of technology that we couldn't live without," he told the Times.
Reposted with permission from our media associate TakePart.
On March 12, 1930, Mahatma Gandhi and a small band of supporters set off on a 241-mile march across western India. Gandhi had devised the walk as an act of nonviolent protest against the British colonial government's salt monopoly, which placed tariffs on the mineral and forbid Indians from producing it. Upon arriving at the coastal city of Dandi in early April, he illegally collected salt from the seaside as a symbolic act of defiance against the British Raj. His actions sent shockwaves across the subcontinent, inspiring scores of Indians to flout the salt tax and launch strikes and boycotts against colonial institutions. Gandhi and some 80,000 others were soon arrested, but not before their peaceful protest had captured the world's attention and demonstrated the power of mass resistance to British rule. — Remembering Gandhi's Salt March, by Evan Andrews
The deed is done. On July 29, President Obama signed a bill that was written by corporations, paid for by corporations and that serves no one in this country—except corporations.
S.764, known by its opponents as the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act, preempts Vermont's mandatory GMO labeling law and substitutes in its place a federal bill that, no matter how Obama and his Congress try to spin it, is not mandatory and does not require labels—at least not labels that anyone can read. Not to mention that most GMO ingredients will be exempt under this fake "law."
I could, once again, list all the reasons this bill fails consumers. But I and others have already done that countless times, to no avail. The bill is a sham, a slap in the face to the 90 percent of Americans who support labeling. It's an attack on states' rights. It's another "gift" to Monsanto and Big Food.
And, for anyone who still harbored any doubt, S.764 is proof that our Democracy is broken, that our lawmakers answer to Corporate America, not to us, the people who elect them.
It would be easy, after four-and-a-half years of non-stop fighting for labels, to cave in to despair. But let's not give Monsanto the satisfaction. Because the truth is, while we may not always be able to win in a policy arena awash in corporate money, we, as consumers, still have tremendous power to influence the marketplace.
It's time to wield that power. Against poison-peddling biotech corporations. Against food companies that hide the truth about what's in their products. Against those "leaders" in the organic industry who sold us down the river on GMO labeling.
It's time to launch a Gandhi-style boycott.
If Vermont mounts a legal challenge to the DARK Act, we will endorse that effort. But in the meantime, we will channel our anger, our disappointment and above all, our energy, into the marketplace. Because that's where we as consumers will have last word.
What We've Accomplished So Far
Before we get on to what's next, let's look at what the GMO labeling movement accomplished, despite passage of the DARK Act.
We educated a critical mass of American consumers about the health and environmental hazards of GMOs and the toxic chemicals that accompany them. When we started this battle, public awareness of genetically engineered food and crops and the damage they inflict on the environment and human health, was marginal at best. Today "GMO," "Monsanto" and "glyphosate" are household words.
We've doubled demand for organic and grass-fed food in the U.S. over the past six years. Organic food and grass-fed meat and animal products are now a $50-billion-a-year powerhouse, the fastest-growing segment of the food system. The market for non-GMO labeled products has grown to $25 billion. Organic, grass-fed and non-GMO foods now constitute approximately 10 percent of all grocery store sales and represent a growing segment of restaurant sales as well.
We forced multi-billion-dollar junk food conglomerates, including General Mills, Kellogg's, Campbell's, Mars, Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Dannon, Con-Agra and others to start labeling their products as GMO or else remove GMO ingredients, ahead of the July 1 date for the (short-lived) enactment of Vermont's GMO labeling law. Now that Vermont's law has been preempted, we need to pressure these companies to keep labeling—or we'll call for a boycott of all of their organic products, including their organic brands.
We've alerted millions of consumers that they can't trust the mass media, regulatory agencies or the scientific establishment. If consumers or farmers want truthful information about food and farming they need to tune in to the alternative and social media. This alternative media includes the mass circulation newsletters, websites and Facebook pages of groups like Mercola.com, the Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, Food Democracy Now, Friends of the Earth, Pesticide Action Network, Moms Across America, Regeneration International, Seed Freedom and hundreds of others that refuse to regurgitate industry propaganda. We need to keep supporting the truth-seekers, like U.S. Right to Know, as they continue to expose Big Food's dark secrets.
Where We Go From Here
It was worth fighting for labels on GMO foods. But we've always known that labels were just one tool in the toolbox. And that the GMOs in the food in our grocery stores are just one piece of a big, bad, dangerous puzzle.
Only about 20 percent of GMOs go into the food we buy. The other 80 percent of all GMO crops go into either animal feed or ethanol fuels. The growing of those crops, which requires millions of tons of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, exacts a terrible toll on our soils, our waters, our health, our future.
It's time to mobilize public consciousness and market pressure and transform our entire degenerate chemical- and energy-intensive industrial food and farming system into a system that regenerates—a system that can restore biodiversity and revitalize public health, animal health, the environment, rural communities and the body politic, while drawing down billions of tons of excess CO2 from the atmosphere and safely sequestering this carbon in the soil and forests, where it belongs.
It's time to drive GMOs off the market, for good.
In the coming weeks and months, we will launch critical new campaigns, some of them international in scope, designed to pressure the bad actors in the food industry to clean up their acts—or risk plummeting sales.
In the meantime, consumers can join the 500,000 people who have already begun exercising their marketplace clout by choosing to boycott brands, including organic brands owned by junk food giants who helped defeat labeling laws. You can download our Boycott/Buycott app here.
As we look to the future of this movement, let's not forget the past. Now would be a good time to take a page out of Gandhi's playbook.
Today, Congress chose to favor the interests of the food industry over consumers' right to know what's in the food they eat and feed their families when the House approved the Senate's version of the DARK Act. The bill now goes to President Obama.
With this legislation, both the House and the Senate have voted to do away with basic transparency about how food is produced. They've also revoked a popular and clear state labeling law that is already in effect in Vermont, nullifying future state labeling requirements.
The majority of Americans support labeling for GMOs and will hold their elected officials accountable for stripping away this transparency.
If this bill becomes law, the food and biotech industries win what are essentially voluntary requirements. This so-called "compromise," does not mandate recalls, penalties or fines for noncompliance and many loopholes in the bill will likely leave many GMO ingredients exempt from any labeling requirements. The bill gives companies the option to use discriminatory and cumbersome QR codes that require a smartphone to access basic information about the food on store shelves.
We urge President Obama to remember his campaign promise to let consumers know what they are eating by rejecting this bill. This is his final chance to get it right when it comes to food policies that protect people over corporations. He'd do just that by vetoing the DARK Act.
One of the biggest concerns about the cultivation of genetically modified crops is the rise of superweeds caused by the overuse of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's best-selling Roundup and other pesticides.
So, in an effort to beat back these herbicide-defying weeds, Monsanto and DuPont have agreed to sell an even stronger weed killer to go with their genetically modified seeds.
Glyphosate is the world's most widely applied herbicide and has faced major controversy ever since the World Health Organization's International Agency cancer research arm linked the compound to cancer.
The rival seed and agrichemical companies have signed a multi-year supply agreement for the weed killer dicamba in the U.S. and Canada, Reuters reported. The new product, DuPont FeXapan herbicide plus VaporGrip Technology, will go with Monsanto's new Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans which are genetically altered to resist dicamba and glyphosate.
It's clear that Monsanto has high hopes for its latest project. According to Reuters, the company invested more than $1 billion in a dicamba production facility in Luling, Louisiana, to meet the demand it predicts. Xtend soybeans were planted on 1 million acres in the U.S. this year, but the company expects 15 million acres to be planted with the GMO soybeans next season and 55 million acres by 2019.
Monsanto's bet on dicamba represents a step away from the company's reliance on its "bread-and-butter glyphosate herbicide business," Reuters noted last year. Glyphosate, the world's most widely applied herbicide, has faced major controversy ever since the World Health Organization's International Agency cancer research arm linked the compound to cancer last year. Glyphosate's future in the Europe Union is also uncertain, as a number of countries have expressed fears over the safety of the product.
According to Dr. Nathan Donley, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, Monsanto's own analysis has indicated that dicamba use on cotton and soy will rise from less than 1 million pounds to more than 25 million pounds used per year. This will only create superweeds that are resistant both to glyphosate and dicamba, Donley told EcoWatch.
"The indiscriminate use of glyphosate created these resistant superweeds in the first place and now these companies want farmers to indiscriminately use dicamba. You don't have to be a genius to know how this will end," Donley said.
"We've been told for so long that genetically engineered crops were going to reduce pesticide use, but it's a complete farce. Now two pesticides are being used where one used to suffice. Five years from now it will be three and so on and so forth."
As for potential ecological impacts or threats to plants or animals, Donley said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has "still not analyzed how dicamba use will affect endangered species so we know absolutely nothing of the potential harms to endangered or threatened species from the use of this herbicide."
He explained that dicamba, more so than most other pesticides, is extremely prone to spray drift, meaning that it likes to move offsite through the atmosphere.
"There is a great potential for damage to nearby crops that are not dicamba resistant, as well as damage to native plants that live in the field margins," Donley said. "These plants provide some of the only habitat and nourishment for many species of animals that live in the zone of agriculture in the Midwest."
The EPA considers dicamba safe for both humans and the environment but admitted "we are concerned about the possibility that the use of dicamba could result in weeds becoming resistant to dicamba."
While dicamba has been around for several decades, the EPA has not yet approved the use of dicamba on genetically engineered cotton and soybeans. However, according to Donley, the agency is expected to give approval soon. The EPA will also need to approve the new herbicide as well.
Sen. Bernie Sanders "expertly trolled" the Senators who support the so-called DARK Act
This bipartisan "compromise" bill, introduced after years of negotiations by Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, would require businesses to label genetically modified foods. That is, if you consider a QR code, 1-800 number or a website URL a label instead of clear, concise language that 9 out of 10 American consumers want and a number of major food companies have started doing anyway. The bill would also nullify state-by-state mandates such as Vermont's and halt efforts by 30-odd states considering similar legislation.
The Senators's bill is unsurprisingly backed by the very industry that produces and profits from such products, including the Grocery Manufactures Association, Monsanto, etc. Deep-pocketed food and beverage corporations have spent millions to lobby politicians and even sued Vermont to stop GMO labeling with the belief that GMO labels would scare consumers away and that a 50-state patchwork of rules would be confusing and costly.
Incidentally, as Common Dreams reported, in data revealed by OpenSecrets.org and the Organic Consumers Association, the senators who voted "yea" on last week's 68-29 preliminary vote received more than twice as much in contributions from the agriculture lobby than those who voted "No" ($867,518 for the supporters vs. $350,877 for opponents).
Opponents of the bill have dubbed it another version of the "Deny Americans the Right to Know," or DARK Act. The earlier DARK Act, which would block state labeling laws, failed in March. The New York Times editorial board also called the latest bill "flawed," stating:
While most scientists say that genetically modified foods do not pose a risk to human health, consumers should have a right to more information about what they are eating. Polls have found that a vast majority of Americans favor mandatory labels. Dozens of countries, including all 28 members of the European Union and Australia, already require similar disclosures.
Researchers have found that labels do not dissuade people from consuming genetically engineered food, which has been a big worry of farm groups and businesses. It is no surprise then that some companies, like Campbell Soup, have voluntarily agreed to label their products.
The biggest problem with the Senate bill is that—instead of requiring a simple label, as the Vermont law does—it would allow food companies to put the information in electronic codes that consumers would have to scan with smartphones or at scanners installed by grocery stores. The only reason to do this would be to make the information less accessible to the public.
So where does that leave us? Well, the decision means that debate is now limited to 30 hours and can withstand filibuster. The final vote could happen sometime tonight or tomorrow and would only require a simple majority, or 51 votes. Efforts by Sen. Bernie Sanders to put a hold on the bill have been quashed since the cloture vote mustered more than 60 yeas.
If the legislation clears the Senate, it would go to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which has historically voted against transparency after passing Rep. Mike Pompeo's bill (H.R. 1599) last year. It would then goes to President Obama's desk, who could sign the bill into law.
If it seems that the bill probably stands a chance, there are still a number of obstacles. As Politco's Morning Agriculture blog reported, Roberts did not exactly celebrate the cloture vote, adding, "Strange things can happen." For instance, on Wednesday during the cloture vote, GMO labeling advocates from the Organic Consumers Association threw $2,000 in cash from the Senate balcony to the floor. They yelled "Monsanto Money" and "Sen. Stabenow, listen to the people, not Monsanto" as the bills fell, according to The Hill.
Yesterday's vote also revealed that the bill has lost some steam since last week's 68-29 procedural vote. According to Politico, "Maine Sens. Susan Collins (R) and Angus King (I) voted yes last week but opposed cloture, as did Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.) and Bob Menendez (N.J.) voted for cloture after opposing the vote last week. The nays added Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who did not vote last week."
Additionally, the Right-wing Heritage Foundation is also against the bill (basically, the foundation says even QR codes are too transparent) and have urged lawmakers to oppose the bill and warned it would key the vote as part of its legislative scorecard.
As for the House vote, even though the lower chamber already passed their own GMO bill, the Senate version is different enough that the House would have to vote on it again, as Grist noted.
The House has been urged by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives to take up and pass the bill before summer recess, which starts next Friday.
A spokeswoman for House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway told Politico that Conaway "will await the outcome in the Senate before making any public statements regarding his position on what action he believes the House should or should not take. He's still engaged in discussions with industry and other stakeholders on the matter."
Detractors of the bill are speaking out against further advancement of the bill. Sanders tweeted Wednesday: "The Stabenow-Roberts GMO bill is confusing, misleading and unenforceable. It does nothing to make sure consumers know what they're eating."
Also, as Quartz puts it, the presidential candidate also "expertly trolled" the Senators who support the bill.
The QR Code is real by the way. If you don't have a QR scanner, the code links to a statement on Sanders's website defending his home state's GMO labeling law.
A number of environmental and consumer advocate groups have spoken out against the bill and the Senate vote.
"Friends of the Earth denounces the Senate's passage of the DARK Act, S. 764, a bill which was passed under the guise of GMO labeling," food and technology campaigner Dana Perls said. "This bill is a travesty, an undemocratic and discriminatory bill which preempts state laws, while offering no meaningful labeling for GMOs. If accepted, Americans will remain in the dark about what we feed our families. We are deeply disappointed in the members of Congress who supported this bill and who did not stand with the vast majority of Americans who want mandatory on-package GMO labeling.
"Friends of the Earth urges consumers to call on the House and President Obama to oppose any bills that would undermine state GMO labeling laws, and to only support meaningful, mandatory on-package labeling for GMO foods, including those made with new gene editing techniques."
Food & Water Watch California Director Adam Scow criticized Sen. Dianne Feinstein's "vote against consumers and for Big Food."
"[The legislation] rolls back the progress that people around the country have made to get clear, on package labeling for GMOs," Scow said. "The bill she voted for will leave way too many Californians in the dark when it comes to knowing what's in the food we eat and how it was produced."
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said, "If this bill becomes law, the industry wins what are essentially voluntary requirements under this GMO labeling 'compromise,' which does not mandate recalls, penalties or fines for noncompliance with the incredibly weak requirements of the bill that will likely leave many GMO ingredients exempt from any labeling requirements."
[Editor's note: Read the latest here.]
Today, in a cloture vote, the Senate voted to do away with our right to know what's in our food, revoking a popular and clear state labeling law in effect inVermont and nullifying all future state labeling initiatives.
This is a slap in the face for all of the advocates that have worked hard to pass state-level measures because they believe strongly that labels should be transparent, and people should have the choice to decide whether or not they purchase and consume foods with genetically engineered ingredients. The majority of Americans support labeling for GMOs and will hold their elected officials accountable for stripping away this transparency.
If this bill becomes law, the industry wins what are essentially voluntary requirements under this GMO labeling "compromise," which does not mandate recalls, penalties or fines for noncompliance with the incredibly weak requirements of the bill that will likely leave many GMO ingredients exempt from any labeling requirements. And the bill gives companies the option to use discriminatory QR codes that require a smartphone to access basic information about the food on store shelves.
Now, we call on the House not to pass the bill. We also call on President Obama to veto the bill if it comes to his desk. On the campaign trail many years ago, he promised reform on many food issues—from giving family farmers a fair shot in the marketplace to food labeling, saying we had the right to know whether or not food is genetically engineered. Before he leaves office, he has one more chance to get it right when it comes to food policy that protects people over corporations. He must veto this bill.
Watch as Senators John Tester (D-MT) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) speak out today against the Senate GMO food labeling bill, with Senator Tester arguing that including the label as a QR code protects corporate food producers over consumers:
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