Monday, April 1, 2013

A Clear Path for More GMOs

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: Today, one of the leading food policy nonprofits issued a lengthy statement by Frederick Ravid, with this naive centerpiece: "First of all, you need to realize the Continuing Resolution is only a six month law. No part of this law lives beyond September 2013, no matter what it provides . . . Section 735 "Monsanto Rider" is reported by NY Daily News to have been written in concert with Mosanto by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), perhaps Monsanto’s biggest Senate contribution beneficiary. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) allowed the language to stand without consultation with the Agriculture Subcommittee, or any others, for that matter. This infamous action has been widely criticized in the strongest terms, even within the Senate. Here’s the thing: It’s springtime. The CR gives cover to Monsanto and other planters to put any kind of wacky poisonous plant in the ground right now, grow it and harvest it in the fall. They only need six months. Then, with lots of seeds in their bins, they only need to go to USDA and whine, “but we have all this seed, and we need to plant it now. You need to approve our insanely dangerous plants or some family farmers with seed in their bins will suffer…” This is how GMO alfalfa was approved despite 200,000 objections from citizens. A USDA panel voted to approve GMO alfalfa, with a patented gene to resist Monsanto’s Roundup.That was back in February 2011. I blogged about it then and here’s what I said: “USDA chief Tom Vilsack had expressed doubts about the approval. Vilsack, an Iowa agriculturalist in his pre-Beltway life, has seen enough failure in the biotech sector to question another crop engineered to resist Roundup, the most powerful weed killer on earth. After a tank of Roundup is sprayed on a field, the alfalfa pops up green and sprightly, ready to grow without competition. But the gene has moved to weeds, so there are now ragweeds, water hemp and many other weeds that can’t be killed by this herbicide. Vilsack, who wrote that cross-pollination poses "a significant concern for farmers who produce for non-GE markets at home and abroad," was ignored. So were the comments of 200,000 consumers that wrote against approval during the comment period. Many of these were organic consumers who realize that organic production will be under threat from the new alfalfa. A few minutes after I posted my blog about the hearing, I got an e-mail with a snippet of conversation between Kathleen Merrigan, who made the decision, and Mark McCaslin of Forage Genetics. And here’s the kicker: The approval was granted not because the doubts had been settled but because an ag industry company had a bunch of the seed in a warehouse and were afraid they were going to lose money without the approval. Land O’ Lakes, now part of Purina, had raised GMO alfalfa and harvested seed for 3 years. A federal judge had ordered them to put it in a warehouse rather than use it, since it was an illegal crop. The damning Environmental Impact Study (EIS) and the anti-GMO comments of more than 200,000 consumers--stood in the way. But Land O’ Lakes was determined. In the words of Mark McCaslin of Forage Genetics: So based on USDA's estimate of a two-year turnaround on an EIS, rather than pay our seed growers to take out those Roundup-ready acres, we left those in. We honored those contracts. And we harvested that seed that we had paid the growers for. So that seed that was produced in 2007, 2008, 2009, according to Judge Breyer's ruling, is in storage. It has been in storage since that time. So the owners of that seed are the 350,000 farmer members of Land O' Lakes. So this -- is the Land O' Lakes cooperative made the decision to pursue Roundup ready alfalfa. We produce the seed. We own the seed, and it's stored in our warehouses. When I read that the investment of a seed company clinched the approval, I felt sad and betrayed. Washington’s in the hands of corporate agbusiness for sure. You would expect a furious outcry from every pet owner, organic consumer, and livestock raiser. The Roundup-Ready genes have never been tested on eaters, including horses, rabbits, hamsters, parakeets—anything that eats those greenish-brown pellets. But, no. Consumers are almost silent. A true measure of our national disconnect from the food system.” That’s all for today. It’s April 1, 2013.

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