Wednesday, 12 June 2013

One Crop Monsanto Should Keep Its Hands Off

Ralph Martin who used to teach at the Nova Scotia agricultural college, and now has a fancy new title " The Loblaw Chair in Sustainable Food Production" at Quelph University, calls forages the infrastructure of agriculture.  I think they're that and more. Forages are the thick green fields we see in the summer where cattle graze, and farmers cut hay. Other than sprouts, forages don't end up on the dinner plates of humans, but that doesn't mean they're not important.  In fact I would argue from a sustainable farming viewpoint they're the most important fields on a farm. The solid cover of plant material prevents soil erosion, if the timing is right they can soak up excess nitrates keeping them out of aquifers, and perhaps most importantly right now they're a sink for carbon dioxide, turning greenhouse gasses into plant material. And some forage crops do something miraculous, turn air into nitrogen, through what's called nitrogen fixing.  Bacteria on the roots of alfalfa and clover (what are called legumes) grab nitrogen from the atmosphere and turn it into useful fertilizer.   And it doesn't end there. plowed under forages provide organic matter which is critical in soil management.

As I wrote recently, I've got a somewhat open mind on some GMO's, but I can feel it closing. Monsanto wants to commercialize a GM alfalfa, a forage crop that can tolerate the use of the herbicide glyphosphate (round-up). I think this is wrong for a lot of reasons.  It's a huge threat to organic farmers who use forage with alfalfa as a plowdown for good fertility in crop rotations. Bees and other pollinators are attracted to alfalfa, and there's little question that GM Alfalfa will contaminate nearby fields, that's unfair to organic farmers.  Secondly alfalfa is widely used in hay, silage, and greenchop to feed dairy and other cattle, so it would work its way (much like soy and corn has already) into many many food products.  And it's a perennial, comes up year after year, again making it much harder to contain.  And lastly I'm still trying to understand the benefits for farmers. It can't be used in any kind of forage mix because the rest of the plants (grasses, etc.) would die, and certainly in this region I've never heard of a farmer who would only grow alfalfa in a field.

An anti-gmo group has discovered that the CFIA has approved one GM alfalfa variety, but the group claims no seeds have been sold yet.  This despite protests by farm groups across the country.  The group is asking Canadians to tell their MP's that they want this stopped.

There's an area where you put in your postal code, and it takes you to a suggested letter that you can send.

And a little more on the difficulties and dangers of containing these new genes. (and if someone in the government is reading this.. hello). 

Monsanto: Contamination By All Means Necessary

Oregon Wheat.(Photo: WebbShots / Flickr)

What happens when you allow commercial interests free rein over a nation state's food and agricultural policies? Consumers and farmers end up paying the price. Take the current predicament of wheat contamination in the US .
Genetically engineered (GE) wheat is not approved to be grown for commercial use in the US or anywhere else in the world. Yet the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that unapproved GE wheat has been found growing in an Oregon wheat field (1). An Oregon farmer sprayed his wheat field, intending it to lay fallow for the next year. Despite multiple sprays of Monsanto's Round Up, the farmer found that the crops unexpectedly persisted, just as GE crops are engineered to do. This prompted him to send samples to a scientist at Oregon State University , who determined that the crops were infused with the RoundUp Ready gene. The USDA confirmed the results.
Since 1994, Monsanto has conducted 279 field trials of RoundUp Ready wheat over more than 4,000 acres of land in 16 states. The USDA has admitted that Monsanto's GMO experiments from 1998 to 2005 were held in open wheat fields. The genetically engineered wheat escaped and found its way into commercial wheat fields in Oregon (and possibly 15 other states), causing self-replicating genetic pollution that now taints the entire US wheat industry.
Contamination of non-GE crops is a serious concern. Worries about harm to human health and the environment are well documented. But GE contaminated wheat has wider ramifications. In the wake of the disclosure of contaminated wheat, Japan has cancelled its offer to buy US western white wheat. Toru Hisadome, a Japanese farm ministry official in charge of wheat trading, is reported by Reuters news agency as saying that Japan will refrain from buying western white and feed wheat immediately (2).
Asian consumers are keenly sensitive to gene-altered food, with few countries allowing imports of such cereals for human consumption. Asia imports more than 40 million tonnes of wheat annually, almost a third of the global trade. The bulk of the region's supplies come from the US . Meanwhile, the European Union has prepared to begin testing shipments for the RoundUp Ready gene.
This all could have major implications for the US economy. In 2012, exported wheat represented a gross sum of $18.1 billion, with 90 percent of Oregon 's wheat exported abroad. Mike Adams of Natural News says that all wheat produced in the US will now be heavily scrutinized and possibly even rejected by other nations that traditionally import US wheat. This obviously has enormous economic implications for US farmers and agriculture. Adams argues that genetic experiments which 'escaped' into commercial wheat fields could devastate US wheat farmers. The floor could drop out on wheat prices, and there may well be a huge backlash against the USDA by US farmers who stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars (3).
Much of the problem lies with the USDA, which gave the go ahead for open-field GMO experiments - little wonder that the USDA is regarded by many as the official cheer -leader for the GM sector.
Genetically modified wheat may be the tip of the iceberg, given the prevalence of open-field trials regarding various other crops and the not so hidden agenda behind such trials. As reported in the Toronto Star back in January 2001, Don Westfall, biotech industry consultant and vice-president of Promar International, stated that the hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded with genetically modified organisms that there's nothing you can do about it - people just sort of surrender.
None of this would be possible without the ability of the GM sector to corrupt state machinery in order to further its commercial interests. Writing on, Rich Murray has highlighted how top people from the GM sector have moved with ease to take up positions with various US government bodies, such as the US Food and Drug Administration (4). Writer and researcher William F Engdahl describes a similar effect in Europe , noting the links between the GMO sector and the European Food Safety Authority (5).
India appears to be no different. I mmediately after a moratorium on BT Brinjal was announced in 2010, a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill suddenly emerged. The BRAI Bill could not be passed in 2010 and 2011 because of objections, but it has surfaced again as a 2013 Bill. In the June edition of Ki Kisan Awaaz, Vandana Shiva argues that it not so much constitutes a Biotechnology Regulation Act, but a Biotechnology Deregulation Act, designed to dismantle the existing bio-safety regulation and give the green-light to the GM sector to press ahead with its agenda in the country. By highlighting the GM sector interests behind the proposed legislation, S hiva says that the goal is to give the sector's corporations immunity by freeing them of courts and democratic control under India 's federal structure (6). It is, in effect, 'Monsanto's Protection Act'.
Whatever the implications of such legislation, we are right to be suspicious given the GM sector's ability to infiltrate and contaminate key government bodies, nowhere more so than in the US . And the result? Look no further than the case of wheat and the agenda of contamination behind open-field testing. I t will not only be consumers who ' pay the price' for corporate duplicity, in terms of health dangers, but, quite literally, US farmers too.
Colin Todhunter : Originally from the northwest of England, Colin Todhunter has spent many years in India. He has written extensively for the Deccan Herald (the Bangalore-based broadsheet), New Indian Express and Morning Star (Britain). His articles have also appeared in various other newspapers, journals and books. His East by Northwest website is at:

1 comment:

  1. My stance on GMOs is no secret, but even if I was supportive, I see a real market niche here for PEI as an island if we were able to keep GM alfalfa out. Forage is a great export for Canada and if GM alfalfa contamination happens, there's no turning back. Would love to see our gov't and Federation of Ag. take this on as a serious issue that could lead to great opportunities for PEI.