Friday, March 25, 2011

GE crops and organics

Genetically altered crops get leg up on organics
By Lyndsey Layton
The Washington Post
March 24, 2011 Thursday

At the supermarket, most shoppers are oblivious to a battle raging within U.S. agriculture and the Obama administration’s role in it. Two thriving but opposing sectors - organics and genetically engineered crops - have been warring on the farm, in the courts and in Washington.

Organic growers say that, without safeguards, their foods will be contaminated by genetically modified crops growing nearby. The genetic engineering industry argues that its way of farming is safe and should not be restricted in order to protect organic competitors.

Into that conflict comes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack,who for two years has been promising something revolutionary: finding a way for organic farms to coexist alongside the modified plants.

But in recent weeks, the administration has announced a trio of decisions that have clouded the future of organics and boosted the position of genetically engineered (GE) crops. Vilsack approved genetically modified alfalfa and a modified corn to be made into ethanol, and he gave limited approval to GE sugar beets.

The announcements were applauded by GE industry executives, who describe their genetically modified organisms as the farming of the future. But organics supporters were furious, saying their hopes that the Obama administration would protect their interests were dashed.

“It was boom, boom boom,” said Walter Robb, co-chief executive of Whole Foods Markets, a major player in organics. “These were deeply disappointing. They were such one-sided decisions.”

To a growing cadre of consumers who pay attention to how their food is produced, the agriculture wars are nothing short of operatic, pitting technology against tradition in a struggle underscored by politics and profits.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

A ‘misguided experiment’

Biotech a ‘misguided experiment’
By Steve Brown
Capital Press
February 18, 2011

PORTLAND — Agriculture developed around the concept of saving seeds. Andrew Kimbrell, from the Center for Food Safety, said the idea of patenting seeds developed around the concept of making money.

“GMOs are going to be the biggest failure in modern agriculture,” Kimbrell said about genetically modified seeds during the Organicology conference here. “They are a misguided experiment.”

Biotech seeds are not increasing yields or nutrition, he said, the exact opposite of what organic growers are doing.

“Instead of selecting seeds for resiliency and robustness, companies purposely create seed that loses its efficacy after one year,” he said. When seeds become a commodity, that leads to a monoculture crop, disease and infestation, more chemical use and eventually soil destruction.

The “genetic-industrial complex” feeds myths through the media, he said. Biotech manufacturers especially target the organic community’s focus on overall soil health.

“But it’s not about organics versus biotech,” he said. “It’s about conventional farmers losing their export markets because their crops are contaminated. Biotech is not an added tool, but a tool that takes over all the other tools in the toolbox. …

“When a crop is rejected because of contamination, there’s no one to sue,” Kimbrell said. He called for a federal farmer protection act, which would establish liability so farmers suffering economic losses from contamination by genetically modified material can recoup their losses from the manufacturer of that material.

One outcome of the rise of biotech crops is the parallel rise of herbicide-resistant weeds, he said. “Superweeds challenge all of agriculture. On this issue we can form a coalition with conventional growers — they’re taking it on the chin more than organic.”

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