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Thursday, August 30, 2012

6 New GMO Crops That May Soon Hit Your Dinner Table

Thursday 30 August 2012, Natural Society

“The first two crops on this list have been on the old, slower-track approval process, which allows 60 days for the public to comment. The remaining four are new additions but are on the fast track.”
Remember when the USDA gave Monsanto’s new GMO crops the fast track to approval? Regardless of the numerous accounts of organ damage, pesticide-resistant weeds, and unintentionally mutated organisms like resistant insects, our own government is manipulating the game to let “biotech bullies” like Monsanto get speedier regulatory reviews. Consequently, the environment, livestock, and consumers will be exposed to even greater danger.
As stated in their press release, the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, envisions transforming the USDA “into a high-performing organization that focuses on its customers.” We’d like to think that we, the consumers, are those customers. The likes of Monsanto, Dow, and Syngenta, however, would probably disagree.

Here’s your chance to tell the USDA otherwise. The first two crops on this list have been on the old, slower-track approval process, which allows 60 days for the public to comment. The remaining four are new additions but are on the fast track, meaning we still only have until September 11th of 2012 to have our say before these seeds hit the soil and, maybe, your dinner table.
6 New GMO Crops to Act Against
  • Dow 2,4-D and Glufosinate Tolerant Soybean - Since the US first began using GM crops, our herbicide usage has been boosted by 300 million pounds, despite claims by biotech behemoths that other plants like weeds would not grow resistant to glyphosate – commonly known as RoundUp. And now, we have “superweeds.” Of course, biotech (and seemingly the USDA) doesn’t care, and they plan on adding the 2,4-D herbicide and dicamba (see number 4) to the list. Take action here.
  • Syngenta Corn Rootworm Resistant Corn - Plenty of nations have banned Syngenta’s GM Bt crops—but not the US. This type of corn produces its own pesticides and kills all bugs, good or bad, which also means livestock can get sick from eating it. Research says that 80% of pregnant women have Bt toxins in their blood. Take action here.
  • Okanagan Non-Browning Apple - Conventional apples are covered in pesticides. That’s why we buy organic, but Okanagan has produced the first GM apple. Take action against genetically modified apples right here.
  • Monsanto Dicamba Tolerant Soybean - Take action here.
  • Dow 2,4-D, Dlyphosate and Glufosinate Tolerant Soybean - Take action here.
  • Genective Glyphosate Tolerant Corn
GM foods are bad news for the earth and all of us who live on it. Have your voice heard while you can.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Walmart to Start Selling Unlabeled Insecticide-laced GMO Corn from Monsanto

America’s largest bio-agriculture company and the biggest retailer in the country are joining forces, but a happy ending isn’t necessarily in sight. Walmart will soon be stocking their shelves with GMO corn made by Monsanto.

Millions of Americans shop at Walmart, but that doesn’t mean that they all know what they’re getting as they check out in shopping centers across the country. The retail giant says they won't advertise which of their products are made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, which could become a big problem very soon. Zack Kaldveer explains in an editorial published by the California Progress Report this month that Walmart will soon sell a special factory-made corn manufactured by Monsanto, which while it will allow most of Americans more easy access to affordable food, will also fill them with unknown insecticides: the very GMO crop Walmart will be selling has been genetically engineered to include chemicals right inside the corn.

Voters in California will decide later this year if retailers on the West Coast will be legally bound to correctly label all foodstuffs sold in shopping centers that are made from lab-alerted, genetically modified foods. Notwithstanding that ruling, one of the largest retailers in the world says that they won’t worry about advertising their GMO foods as the product of scientists in the meantime because, simply, they don’t see enough of a reason to do as such.

"After closely looking at both sides of the debate and collaborating with a number of respected food safety experts, we see no scientifically validated safety reasons to implement restrictions on this product," company representative Dianna Gee tells the Chicago Tribune.

Critics of that stance say that the explanation is flawed, though. With GMOs still being a relatively new science and industry, the true safety of foods made in labs has not been thoroughly tested because the long-lasting effects have yet to be analyzed. That’s why people in California are rallying to pass Proposition 37, a legislation that will require that products sold in the state are labeled as GMOs if they fit the description.

"How would you ever know if there are adverse health effects?" Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, adds to the Tribune. "There has been a doubling of food allergies in this country since 1996. Is it connected to genetically engineered foods? Who knows, when you have no labeling? That is a problem."

Monsanto, one of the biggest biotech companies in the world, isn’t that okay with efforts to pass the bill, though. They have so far donated hundreds of millions of dollars towards a campaign established to stop the bill, No on 37. But in the latest incident to unfold in the saga, Monsanto isn’t exactly offering suggestions to come to a compromise either.

According to the New York Times, Monsantor Director of Corporate Communications Phil Angel said, ''Monsanto should not have to vouch for the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job.''

The FDA, on the other hand, disagrees. California Progress Report reveals that, on the record, the Food and Drug Administration insists, “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.”

Now unless the Proposition 37 passes, Walmart says that they will not go out of their way to inform their customers as to what exactly they are getting either, leaving millions of Americans to shop at the country’s most popular store without being aware of what risks are at hand.

Opponents of the effort to label foods insist that passing Prop 37 will leave America’s agriculture and food shopping economy in shambles because it will scare consumers, though.

"Prop. 37 leaves consumers with the incorrect impression that there is something wrong with GE crops, when that is not true,” No on 37 spokesperson Kathy Fairbanks tells the Associated Press.

Walmart agrees, and now plans on letting all GMOs go onto their shelves unlabeled at the 4,000 or so stores across this country. With Walmart growing from having 6 percent to a full quarter of nationwide grocery sales in just a decade and a half, though, a win for them can eventually mean a loss for anyone in America who is concerned with what’s going into their bodies.

“It’s an epic food fight between the pesticide companies and consumers who want to know what’s in their food,” Yes on 37 media director Stacy Malkan tells the Associated Press,

Monday, August 6, 2012

Monsanto's Quiet Coup: Will Congress Limit Scope and Time for GMO Reviews?

Aug. 6, 2012, Jill Ricardson, PR Watch

After a series of court defeats over the past few years, Monsanto and friends are trying to use Congress to make an end-run around the courts and current law. Lawsuits brought by opponents of genetically engineered (GE) crops resulted in the temporary removal of two products -- Roundup Ready Alfalfa and Roundup Ready Sugarbeets -- from the market. If the biotechnology industry and the legislators they support have their way, future GE crops will not suffer the same fate.

Genetically engineered crops are plants that have had genes from other species inserted into their DNA. "Roundup Ready"crops like alfalfa and sugarbeets fall in a class of GE crops called "herbicide tolerant" crops, which are engineered to survive exposure to Monsanto's bestselling herbicide Roundup. Farmers spray their entire fields with Roundup, killing only the weeds. Monsanto profits by selling both the seeds and increased quantities of Roundup herbicide.

The "Big 6" pesticide and genetic engineering corporations -- BASF, Bayer, Dupont, Dow, Syngenta, and Monsanto -- have made millions while providing everyone else with questionable benefits and enormous risks. The riskiness of genetically engineered crops comes in part from their ability to cross-pollinate crops in other fields, spreading their genes far and wide. Once a new genetically engineered crop is introduced, the genie is out of the bottle, and those genes are in our food supply for good. Therefore, it's in everyone's interest (except for the biotech companies that stand to profit) to thoroughly examine any new crop before allowing it on the market.

GMOs Roll on Wheels Reagan Greased

The scene was initially set before the first genetically engineered crops existed, when the pro-industry Reagan administration crafted a lax regulatory framework (known as the "Coordinated Framework") requiring no new laws to regulate genetically engineered crops and animals, thus avoiding any public national debate on the issue. Instead, newly created GE plants would be treated as potential "pests" to other plants and reviewed by government agencies under stilted standards about whether the GE plants hurt other plants or protected animals like endangered species.

With the Coordinated Framework in place, the biotech industry had little to worry about. It had plenty of friends inside the USDA and the bar for "proving" its products were "not a pest" was not set terribly high. One after another, each genetically engineered crop was deregulated, allowing farmers to grow them commercially. Once they reached consumers, the products were not even labeled as "Genetically Modified Organisms" (GMOs), and many Americans had no idea their food had even changed.

Farmers and Consumer Groups Call a Halt in Court

Everything was going along fine for industry, in fact, until the matter went to court. At issue was the deregulation of two crops, Roundup Ready alfalfa and Roundup Ready sugarbeets. Instead of completing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prior to deregulating the crops, the USDA had only performed a more limited Environmental Assessment (EA). Performing an EA limits the level of public involvement in the assessment process as compared with an EIS, which can provide significant time for citizens to submit comments and concerns. For example, the USDA recently received 365,000 comments from citizens opposing the deregulation of Dow's GE "2,4-D corn" (2,4-D is an herbicide that was an ingredient in Agent Orange).

In both cases, Geertson Seed Farms v. Johanns and Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack, the courts ruled that the respective crops could not be deregulated until a full EIS was completed. Furthermore, the crops in question could not be planted until then -- even during the appeals process.

The USDA completed the required EIS's for both crops and, despite thousands of comments expressing concerns, approved the deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa in January 2011 and Roundup Ready sugarbeets in July 2012.

2012 "Ag Approps" Gives Props to the "Big 6"

This regulatory victory was not good enough for industry, however. Quietly, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) wrote a gift to biotech companies into the 2013 agriculture appropriations ("Ag Approps") bill. Opponents of GMOs refer to this as the "Monsanto Protection Act." Beneficiaries of Kingston's "rider" to the bill (Section 733) -- such as Monsanto, which lobbied for it in the second quarter of 2012 -- refer to it as the "farmer assurance provision."

If the Ag Approps bill passes as written, if a court removes a GMO from the market after the USDA has deregulated it, the USDA will be required to grant a permit to plant that crop to any farmer who requests one, even if that crop's safety is in question or under review.

Buried Biotech Treasure in the 2012 Farm Bill

At the same time, another far-reaching provision favoring the biotech industry is in the works. Buried in the House version of the 2012 Farm Bill, sponsored by House Agriculture Committee chair Frank Lucas (R-OK), is an enormous gift to the biotech industry. The bill changes the Plant Protection Act (PPA) to limit the time and scope of future environmental assessments of GE crops.

The House farm bill as changed by Congressman Lucas alters the legal rules to cut corners on the environmental review by requiring only the more limited EA and by requiring the USDA to complete that review in a maximum period of a year and a half -- or else the GE crop is automatically approved. It also restricts the scope of that limited environmental review and forbids the spending of any money on any broader environmental analysis of the effect of the GMO.

The time limits set by Lucas make haste the official policy of the USDA. For details, see Biotech Riders in the 2012 Farm Bill on SourceWatch. As Dave Murphy, Executive Director of Food Democracy Now!, put it, the pro-biotech language hidden in the bill "will take the U.S. regulatory scheme on GMOs from farce to corporate fascism in one fell swoop."

How did this language find its way into the bill? Monsanto and others have been lobbying Congress on the "regulation of products of agricultural biotechnology under [the] Plant Protection Act and National Environmental Policy Act." Dow Chemical joined Monsanto, lobbying specifically on "deregulation of genetically modified organisms under the Plant Protection Act."

The public lobbying reports do not tell the full story of what Monsanto and Dow wanted specifically and how much money they have spent in the multitude of ways they seek to influence and pressure Congress, but -- as they say -- the proof is in the pudding. Which companies have submitted petitions to the USDA for deregulation of GMOs that would benefit most from the 90-day time limit written into the bill? Monsanto and Dow.

With the Future of Food on the Table, "Big 6" Play with "Weighty" Dice

With these measures buried in enormous bills that are considered "must pass" in order to fund government agencies and determine farm subsidies, the industry and its allies are continuing to avoid an open, honest, full national debate about the safety and risks of GMOs. Congress must pass bills to fund U.S. agriculture policy unless it decides to temporarily extend the terms of the Bush era farm bill.

Even though the USDA approved Monsanto's GMO beets and alfalfa over objections from organic farmers and other concerned citizens, the courts required a full EIS review that allowed the public to weigh in with an array of concerns that exist or are emerging about GE crops. But if the law is changed, as sought by Monsanto-friendly Congressmen like Kingston and Lucas and their buddies, the USDA -- already extremely favorable to biotech -- will lose the ability to do much more than rubberstamp GMO industry requests. More importantly, the courts will not be able to require more thorough environmental review, further opening the door to the haphazard introduction of new GE crops into our food supply, our farms, and our environment.

In response to this, the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA), an organization which promotes alternatives to pesticides that are safe for workers and the environment, is asking concerned citizens to email their representatives and urge them to stand up to "Big 6" pressure and reject the biotech riders in the farm bill.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.