Monday, June 08, 2009

Some news on GM crops

One of the main concerns for advocates against Genetically Modified (GM) crops is the growing number of pesticide tolerant or resistant weeds and their affect on crop yield. According to an article published in Geoforum by Binimelis et al, in 2009 a glyphosate-resistant biotype of johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense (L.)) appeared in Argentina and now covers at least 10,000 ha. They explain that no preventive strategies are deployed against the invasion. The reactive measures are based on "gene-stacking" that allows the use of still more glyphosate or new combinations of herbicides. A new phenomenon called the "transgenic treadmill" is identified. A colleague of mine pointed out that since the EU is the largest importer of soybeans, European awareness of the local impacts of imported soybeans (as feedstuffs and/or agro-fuels) should not focus only on deforestation, but also consider the socio-environmental consequences apart from the loss of productivity.

Bonnie Azab Powell at the Ethicurean recently posted “The Failure of Science”: New paper makes a damning case against genetically modified food crops" where she mentions the new book “Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet" by technology reporter Denise Caruso and recent articles published in the International Journal of Society of Agriculture and Food. The two part series Part 1: The Development of a Flawed Enterprise and Part 2: Academic Capitalism and the Loss of Scientific Integrity highlight the conflict between science and society through a historical perspective, tactics used, and regulatory flaws and failures.

This year's Global Food Security Act of 2009 introduced by Senator Richard Lugar, "would authorize appropriations for fiscal years 2010 through 2014 to provide assistance to foreign countries to promote food security, to stimulate rural economies, and to improve emergency response to food crises, to amend the Foreign Assistance Act(FAA) of 1961." Sounds like a great bill for the US to help alleviate world hunger except that it creatively amends the FAA of 1961 by makinging the first sentence include "research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including genetically modified technology." Consequently, the bill specifies that the U.S. MUST fund GMOs and biotechnology, a change in policy up to this point.

The bill was nicknamed "the REAL Monsanto bill" by the Organic Consumers Association. According to Monsanto's first quarter lobbying reports, the company spent $2,094,000 in the first quarter 2009. Their specific lobbying issues were Biotechnology acceptance, S. 384- Global Food Security Act of 2009, Sustainable Yield Initiative, Crop insurance/Biotech yield endorsement and USDA Rulemaking - 7CFR Part 340. (thanks to La Vida Locavore who was contacted by Monsanto who denied involvement in the bill).

In the waning months of the Bush Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a proposal to completely overhaul its regulation of genetically engineered crops, significantly weakening its oversight. USDA also published the rules before publishing the full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as required by law, and in the absence of public review of the data needed to make regulatory recommendations. A comment period for USDA's Docket No. APHIS-2008-0023, Importation, Interstate Movement, and Release into the Environment of Certain Genetically Engineered Organisms has been extended until June 29th.

If you wish to submit a comment using the Internet, go to the Federal eRulemaking portal. Then click on “Add Comments.” This will also allow you to view public comments and related materials available electronically. Using the Federal eRulemaking portal is the best way to ensure that your comments will be associated with the right docket and reviewed by the right people. Consideration will be given to all comments received on or before June 29th.

Crossposted from Epicurean Ideal.


freude bud said...

So the first sentence would read:

"Agricultural research carried out under this chapter shall (1) take account of the special needs of small farmers in the determination of research priorities, (2) include research on the interrelationships among technology, institutions, and economic, social, environmental, and cultural factors affecting small-farm agriculture, (3) make extensive use of field testing to adapt basic research to local conditions, and (4) include research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including genetically modified technology."

which means that anyone applying for funds from the govt for an in-country research project under the act will be required to consider, amongst the other things enumerated, biotechnological advances which may be appropriate to local conditions, including genetically modified crops or techniques... right?

Why, in and of itself, is that so worrisome?

Ashley said...

Fruede Bud,

Thank you for your comment. My point is that the bill should be neutral on the issue instead of giving the green light to GE, especially given the lack of environmental field testing. This is the same position as the Union of Concerned Scientists:

"International agriculture aid shouldn't mandate GE research
Congress is considering legislation—the Global Food Security Act—that would authorize $7.75 billion in agricultural and rural development assistance programs for developing countries over five years. UCS strongly supports the overall bill but is calling on Congress to strip a provision that appears to mandate research employing GE as a condition of aid to developing countries. Our recent report, Failure to Yield, suggests that a preference for GE in research aimed at rapidly improving crop productivity is not justified. The report found that GE technology has not significantly increased U.S. food crop yields, despite nearly two decades of research, and recommended more emphasis on traditional breeding and ecological farming methods to increase global food production and improve nutrition, environmental quality, and the lives of farmers in developing countries."

"While the overall thrust of the bill is admirable, the bill should be technology-neutral and allow developing countries to choose the kinds of research that they believe will best meet their needs." ~ Karen Perry Stillerman, Senior Analyst, Food & Environment

Ashley said...

Also, the problem with the global food crisis is less about yields (although this is the language you often hear) and more about poverty, trade policy, rising costs (of inputs needed for GE crop production), and the push for poorer countries to grow commodity cash crops instead of sustenance landraces.

Sinclair said...

It is extremely worrisome that a private industry that has a monopoly on some potentially extremely harmful technology is being allowed to write the legislation that will place this very company and its technology at the forefront of our food choice and foreign food policy. One private company should not control the global food market.

freude bud said...

Hi Ashley ... thanks for taking the time to answer my question.

I'm still a little confused: the language doesn't seem to green light GE research, but to instruct those people looking into potential solutions for food security issues in overseas locations to include consideration of the potential utility of GE advances / technology.

Is this a misunderstanding of the objectionable provision?--because if not it sounds like you're saying even being sure to consider whether or not it could be beneficial is a problem.

Is Monsanto involved in the most perplexing (to me) commodity crops--biofuel crops? Does this legislation push yield-based solutions or commodity crops?

Ashley said...

Freude Bud. No problem. I enjoy the dialog. I am specifically speaking of Sec. 202 under Agriculture Research. Section 103A of the FFA 1961 was amended "by striking the period at the end and inserting `, and (4) include research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including genetically modified technology.'."

My point is that this is a change in US policy towards GM crop research. Industry will now be able to utilize this provision. Since our own country has failed to properly test and regulate GE crops, I find the change troublesome. The problems occurring in Argentina show we still don't know the environmental impact.

Monsanto's Bt and Roundup ready corn, Roundup soybeans, and GE cotton and canola are part of the commodities market.

freude bud said...

Hi Ashley ...

Thanks again for responding to my question ... it was not rhetorical at all ... simply trying to understand the objection. It seems like you're taking a "strict liability" approach to potential legislation, but you're the expert, not me.

I wonder if the recent announcement of Obama's international food policy ties into this legislation in any way?

Phillip Huggan said...

It looks like a type of GMO potatoes cause Swine Flu:
Only USA, Canada, UK, Auzzies, and Chile produce these potatoes. Everyone missed the Chile case signal I suspect because everyone assumed case reporting assymetries. French fry consumption is also correlated with modern health services economies...

1) If true this swings the pendulum in favour of *extensive* GMO labelling and EU's prudent stand on GMOs now looks defensible. The Prince was right about organic farming.
2) You'd want to not feed these potatoes to pigs and birds especially, and probably other animals. A diet of these potatoes may even be the source of the outbreak in a Mexican pig farm.
3) Don't plant this strain next year and consider abandoning potatoes in the ground now (maybe can be frozen until flu subsides but I doubt it).
4) Pull these potatoes and issue recalls in all areas where bird flu cases have been reported. Same for regions where immediate starvation/malnutrition isn't threatened. Work to remove from other regions ASAP.