Twitter-land was abuzz last week with news that a formerly ardent critic of genetic engineering (GE) has recanted his position. Mark Lynas gave a long mea culpa speech at the Oxford Farming Conference, in which he apologized to the world for tearing up GE crops back in the day, and for what he described as his “anti-science environmentalism.”
Unfortunately, Lynas then went on to ignore the weight of scientific evidence (more on that below). He claimed that GE crop production is good for biodiversity and necessary to feed the world, that organic farming is bad, and that “there is no reason at all why avoiding chemicals should be better for the environment.” He then quickly slammed the door shut on public debate, pronouncing “discussion over.” Many of us in the global scientific community were left shaking our heads, bemused if disappointed in Lynas’ anti-science rhetorical flourishes. Read more
If you want to bury an unsavory news story, the afternoon before Christmas vacation is a good time to break it. The FDA chose December 21 to release its Environmental Assessment (EA) of the genetically modified “AquAdvantage“ salmon. This move quietly slid the fish closer to making history as the first GM animal approved for human consumption. The public was given 60 days to comment on a farmed salmon that American fish farmers wouldn’t be allowed to raise, but American consumers would nonetheless be allowed to eat.
If the announcement’s timing suggests FDA wants the application to flow smoothly, also consider that it has been 17 years since AquaBounty first applied for permission to sell its recombinant Atlantic salmon in the U.S. The company has paid a heavy price for trying to be first. Read more
On the heels of California’s Proposition 37 and the national debate over genetically engineered (GE) food, pesticide companies are continuing to push to legalize new types of GE crops linked with powerful pesticides. Farmers like Indiana’s Troy Roush are objecting to such a shortsighted approach to agriculture. There are currently 13 new GE crops pending USDA approval, the most threatening of which may be Monsanto’s Dicamba Soybean. (Other crops include Dow’s 2,4-D Corn and 2,4-D Soybean, and the non-browning “Arctic Apple.”)
Why the need for new seeds? The first GE seeds were introduced in 1996 and adopted widely. Instead of having to rotate crops, farmers could spray the herbicide RoundUp to kill weeds while the GE plants survived. Gradually the weeds adapted and herbicide-resistant weeds now affect an estimated 12 million acres of farmland (about half the size of Indiana), and that number is growing rapidly. Read more
If Proposition 37, California’s GMO labeling measure, gets voted down today, it will be unfortunate and frustrating for many. But it won’t happen for lack of a movement.
Last month, in a much-quoted New York Times Magazine article, Michael Pollan framed this state-level ballot initiative as an important test with national implications. If we can translate the growing consumer awareness about the value of organic and local food into a movement with real political will, he argued, then surely this ballot initiative was a reason to pull out the stops and push this burgeoning movement to its limit. Read more
As a scientist at Pesticide Action Network, I am frequently asked these days to explain what genetically engineered (GE) crops have to do with pesticides. When I answer that GE crops both contain and drive up pesticide use, I am often met with earnest incredulity. We seem to need to believe that GE technology is the best thing since sliced bread.
On a radio program just last week, a caller voiced his genuine hopes to me that GE crops would provide a green solution to the woes of the world since he’d heard that these crops increase yield, cure blindness and reduce pesticide use. I was sorry to have to disappoint him on all counts, since GE crops have consistently failed to improve yield, have done nothing to date for Vitamin A deficiency-related blindness and have driven increases in pesticide use since their introduction some sixteen years ago.
On this last point, a new study on GE crops out last week added yet more weight to the body of evidence contradicting the GE crop industry’s long-standing myth. Published Friday in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe, the Washington State University (WSU) study offers a simple but devastating finding: GE seeds dramatically increase pesticide use, and that use will grow unless we change the course of our food and farming system. Read more
Very big news exploding across the media yesterday. Eating genetically engineered (GE) corn has been strongly linked to serious health effects—including mammary tumors, kidney and liver damage. A team of European scientists today released the first ever long-term animal feeding study of the health effects of eating GE foods in the peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology. Read more
In case you had any doubt that California’s Prop 37—which would require labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—is a significant threat to industry, a top food lobby has now made it perfectly clear.
In a recent speech to the American Soybean Association (most soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified), Grocery Manufacturers Association President Pamela Bailey said that defeating the initiative “is the single-highest priority for GMA this year.” Read more
Being a modest man of humble origins, it’s difficult to glean from Jere Gettle just how he came to be something of an apostle for a pure food movement, or, according to a New York Times magazine headline, one of “The Evangelists for Heirloom Vegetables.” Lacking in bombast, not given to hyperbole or self-promotion, much less sermonizing, the seedsman from Missouri seemed pleasantly surprised by all the fuss when asked recently about the meteoric growth of the business he began just 14 years ago, when Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds sent out its first mail order catalog. That was 1998. He was 17. Read more
Last week, the National Academy of Sciences hosted a summit to discuss “superweeds,” or the widespread problem of herbicide-resistant weeds currently afflicting millions of farm acres across the United States.
Superweeds—the “weeds that man can no longer kill!”—have been in the news for several years. All across the Midwest and Southeast farmers have been photographed and filmed standing in fields surrounded by the giant plants. They bemoan the cost of pesticides and point to industrial rows of crops that don’t have a chance when up against feisty weeds that grow up to three inches a day.
Superweeds have been especially likely to appear alongside genetically engineered (GE) crops, which are engineered to withstand large amounts of pesticide and herbicide use. And these weeds show no sign of going away any time soon. Read more
Last week the White House released its National Bioeconomy Blueprint (PDF) which “outlines steps that agencies will take to drive the bioeconomy—economic activity powered by research and innovation in the biosciences—and details ongoing efforts across the Federal government to realize this goal.”
Unfortunately, this new bioeconomy is not as green as the Obama administration is making it out to be. The so-called bioeconomy is dependent primarily on the risky, unregulated field of synthetic biology and the use of unsustainably produced biomass to feed synthetic organisms created by these technologies. The National Bioeconomy Blueprint, while offering little in new substantive policy, causes more harm than good by giving the green light to the growth and profit of the synthetic biology industry without making any real effort to protect people and the environment from the novel risks posed by this emerging technology. Read more