When Justin Dammann enters his southwestern Iowa cornfield this month, the 35-year-old farmer will sow something these 2,400 acres have not seen in more than a decade — plants grown without genetically modified seeds. The corn, which will head to a processor 20 miles down the road this fall, will likely make its way into tortilla shells, corn chips and other consumable products made by companies taking advantage of growing consumer demand for food without biotech ingredients. For Dammann and other Midwest farmers, the burgeoning interest in non-GMO foods has increased how much they get paid to grow crops in fields once populated exclusively with genetically modified corns and soybeans. The revenue hike is a welcome benefit at a time when lower commodity prices are pushing farm income down to what’s expected to be the lowest level in six years.
It’s been a tough few weeks for Monsanto. Late last week, companies “such as Monsanto” were implicated in a watchdog group’s petition to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on behalf of anonymous scientists within the agency who say their research is suppressed when it upsets powerful agrichemical interests. The allegations enraged the industry’s critics, who have been busy touting recent reports linking popular herbicides often used in tandem with genetically engineered crops, or GMOs, to cancer and antibiotic resistance. Both controversies are renewing calls for tougher restrictions on certain herbicides and mandatory packaging labels for groceries containing GMO ingredients. “If true, this is a major scandal at the USDA,” wrote Gary Ruskin, director of the pro- labeling group US Right to Know, in a March 30 letter to the US House and Senate agricultural committees demanding an investigation. “It is not the proper role of the USDA to engage in a cover up for Monsanto and other agrichemical companies.”
A battle is currently being waged over Africa’s seed systems. After decades of neglect and weak investment in African agriculture, there is renewed interest in funding African agriculture. These new investments take the form of philanthropic and international development aid as well as private investment funds. They are based on the potentially huge profitability of African agriculture – and seed systems are a key target. Right now ministers are co-ordinating their next steps at the 34th COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) Intergovernmental Committee meeting that kicked off yesterday, 22nd March, in preparation for the main Summit that will follow on 30th and 31st March 2015.
A controversial lobbyist who claimed that the chemical in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer was safe for humans refused to drink his own words when a French television journalist offered him a glass. “You can drink a whole quart of it and it won’t hurt you,” Moore insists. “You want to drink some?” the interviewer asks. “We have some here.” “I’d be happy to, actually,” Moore replies, adding, “Not really. But I know it wouldn’t hurt me.” “If you say so, I have some,” the interviewer presses. “I’m not stupid,” Moore declares. “So, it’s dangerous?” the interviewer concludes. But Moore claims that Roundup is so safe that “people try to commit suicide” by drinking it, and they “fail regularly.” “Tell the truth, it’s dangerous,” the interviewer says. “It’s not dangerous to humans,” Moore remarks. “No, it’s not.” “So, are you ready to drink one glass?” the interviewer continues to press. “No, I’m not an idiot,” Moore says defiantly.
Toxic herbicide GLYPHOSATE, an active ingredient in Roundup, has been found in the breast milk of nursing mothers and in urine collected from people living far from the sites where Roundup is applied to crops. This means that it is IN OUR FOOD supply, on food crops, in processed foods of all kinds, including pediatric and feeding supplements for the most vulnerable children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. Monsanto tells us that Glyphosate does not accumulate in our bodies, but the research being conducted does not back up their statements. Only organically grown, Non GMO (genetically modified) food and food products are free from glyphosate and other toxic herbicides. How dangerous is GLYPHOSATE?
The perils of ingesting food that has any contact with a Monsanto-produced product are in the news on nearly a weekly basis. As Dr. Jeff Ritterman has documented, Monstanto’s herbicide, Roundup, has beenlinked to a fatal kidney disease epidemic, and has also been repeatedly linked to cancer. Recently, a senior research scientist at MIT predicted that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, will cause half of all children to have autism by 2025. Farmers in El Salvador are acutely aware of the importance of producing their own seeds, and avoiding those from the bioengineering giant.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not essential for feeding the world, but if by some massive stretch of the imagination they were to lead to increased productivity, did not harm the environment and did not negatively impact biodiversity and human health, would we be wise to embrace them anyhow? The fact is that GMO technology would still be owned and controlled by certain very powerful interests. In their hands, this technology is first and foremost an instrument of corporate power, a tool to ensure profit. Beyond that, it is intended to serve US global geopolitical interests. Indeed, agriculture has for a long time been central to US foreign policy.
In the face of overwhelming competition skewed by the rules of free trade, farmers in El Salvador have managed to beat the agricultural giants like Monsanto and Dupont to supply local corn seed to thousands of family farmers. Local seed has consistently outperformed the transnational product, and farmers helped develop El Salvador’s own domestic seed supply–all while outsmarting the heavy hand of free trade. This week, the Ministry of Agriculture released a new round of contracts to provide seed to subsistence farmers nationwide through its Family Agriculture Program. Last year, over 560,000 family farmers across El Salvador planted corn and bean seed as part of the government’s efforts to revitalize small scale agriculture, and ensure food security in the rural marketplace.
If you’re headed to Austin, Texas, next week to attend the “Southbites: Feed Your Mind”session during Austin’s South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Interactive, don’t expect to hear an honest debate on the health and safety of genetically engineered crops or food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—at least not if the biotech industry can help it. According to Cathleen Enright, executive vice president food & agriculture, for the Biotech Industry Organization (BIO), there is nothing to debate. GMO agriculture is “sustainable” and GMO foods are “safe.” Anyone who says otherwise is making “scary” statements that have no basis in fact—because every shred of scientific evidence suggesting health or safety concerns related to GMOs “has been discredited,” Enright told me during a March 3 (2015) phone conversation.
The U.S. government and multinational corporations have capitalized on African nations’ voids in regulatory frameworks to push genetically modified (GM) crops, standing to gain lucrative corporate profits while decimating food sovereignty, a new report states. Released Monday from the African Centre for Biosafety and commissioned by environmental network Friends of the Earth International, Who benefits from GM crops? The expansion of agribusiness interests in Africa through biosafety policy (pdf) looks at how U.S. interests have used the mantra of addressing food security to push these crops despite local opposition. “The U.S., the world’s top producer of GM crops, is seeking new markets for American GM crops in Africa,” stated report author Haidee Swanby. “The U.S. administration’s strategy consists of assisting African nations to produce biosafety laws that promote agribusiness interests instead of protecting Africans from the potential threats of GM crops.”
Farmers and farm businesses in 20 states have now filed more than 360 lawsuits against agricultural chemicals-maker Syngenta, and hundreds more may be coming as a federal judge organizes the complex case so they can move forward. The dispute centers around Syngenta’s sale of a corn seed called Agrisure Viptera, which was genetically altered to contain a protein that kills corn-eating bugs such as earworms and cutworms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved it in 2010, and Syngenta first sold it to farmers in 2011. China, a growing importer of U.S. corn that refuses to buy genetically modified crops it hasn’t tested, had not approved Viptera when Syngenta began selling it. In November 2013, China discovered the Viptera corn trait in several U.S. shipments.
On Friday, February 13, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the first genetically engineered apple, despite hundreds of thousands of petitions asking the USDA to reject it. In April 2013, we interviewed scientists about the genetic engineering technology used to create the Arctic Apple, whose only claim to fame is that it doesn’t turn brown when sliced. The benefit to consumers? Being able to eat apples without having any sense of how old they are? Here’s what we learned about the technology, called RNA interference, or double strand RNA (dsRNA), from Professor Jack Heinemann (University of Canterbury, New Zealand), Sarah Agapito-Tenfen (from Santa Catarina University in Brazil) and Judy Carman (Flinders University in South Australia), all of whom said that dsRNA manipulation is untested, and therefore inherently risky. . .
Poland’s biggest ever farmers’ protest is now entering its second week after closing down key motorways and main ‘A’ roads. Rallies and blockades have so far taken place in over 50 locations across the country involving thousands of small and family farmers. Over 150 tractors have been blockading the A2 motorway into Warsaw since the 3rd February and hundreds more have closed roads and are picketing governmental offices in other regions. The farmers are vowing to continue the struggle until the government agrees to enter talks with the union and address what the growing crisis in Polish agriculture, and roll back measures that unfairly discriminate against smaller family-run farms.
In an unprecedented and alarming move, the US Department of Agriculture has given GE tree company ArborGen permission to pursue commercial production of a genetically engineered (GE) loblolly pine with no regulatory oversight or environmental risk assessment. This decision was withheld from the US public for almost five months. This is the first genetically engineered forest tree to be approved for commercial production anywhere in the world (outside of China). The potential impacts to the public or to the environment will not be evaluated, and overwhelming public opposition to GE trees is being completely ignored. This decision sets a terrible and unacceptable precedent. If unchallenged, it will allow other GE trees, with even more dangerous traits, to be developed without any federal or public review.