Imagine an invisible cloud of a cancer-causing weedkiller drifting slowly across your state. Well, one just blew 100 miles across California, from Merced County, nestled at the northern tip of the Central Valley, as far south as Kern County (one county stop before Los Angeles) according to farm press.
Governments are gathering in Brazil, twenty years after the historic 1992 Earth Summit where nations around the world pledged to devote themselves to ending hunger and conserving the planet’s resources for future generations.
This week, governments gather once again, and food and agriculture are high on the agenda of “Rio+20.” Global leaders will be discussing which way forward to feed the world amidst growing food, climate and water crises. Monsanto & Co. have geared up with slick websites and sound bytes — to the point where some have dubbed the official meeting “Greenwash +20.” But the good news is that people around the world are mobilizing like never before for a new food system.
I’ve been hearing through the grapevine that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was startled by the public uproar over Dow AgroScience’s application for approval of its controversial new GE corn, designed to be used with the infamous and highly hazardous weedkiller, 2,4-D.
By quietly opening the public comment period on December 21, 2011, the agency had apparently hoped to slide this one by without attracting public attention. Instead, a vocal and growing movement of people from all walks of life has emerged to challenge the Big 6 pesticide/biotech companies’ introduction of this new generation of toxic pesticide-seed combinations.
Media are all atwitter about a new Nature study by researchers at McGill University and the University of Minnesota that compares organic and conventional yields from 66 studies and over 300 trials. In extrapolating the study's findings to the charged question of how to feed the world, more than a few got it all wrong.
The core finding of the study is that “yield differences [between organic and conventional] are highly contextual, depending on system and site characteristics.” In other words, sometimes organic does better, sometimes conventional does. In fact, the sheer variety of comparisons led Mother Jones columnist Tom Philpott to observe that the study “like a good buffet… offered something for every taste.”
Spring has sprung, and farmers across the country are preparing for planting season. One of their biggest headaches will be dealing with the millions of acres of cropland that have been infested with superweeds and new generations of superbugs.
These superpests have evolved as the direct — and inevitable — consequence of Monsanto’s aggressive promotion of its genetically engineered “RoundUp-Ready” and insecticidal seed packages over the past 15 years.
As if the disaster of RoundUp resistant superweeds sweeping our farmland weren’t enough, Monsanto is now preparing to launch an even greater disaster: a new soybean engineered to be resistant to the older, more toxic weedkiller, dicamba. The seed — which Monsanto plans to market in 2014 if approved — will also come stacked with the company’s RoundUp Ready gene, and is designed to be used with Monsanto’s proprietary herbicide “premix” of dicamba and glyphosate.
More dicamba-tolerant crops (corn, cotton, canola) are all waiting in the wings. If this new generation of GE crops is approved, then dicamba use will surge, just as it did with RoundUp. And we all know how well that didn't work out.
A raging public controversy over genetically engineered (GE) rice in China captured media attention in recent months, and has culminated in a surprising win. A few weeks ago, the country’s State Council released a new Draft Food Law1 that, if passed, would protect the genetic resources of China’s food crops and restrict the application of GE technology in its main food crops.
This is significant progress in the effort by farmers and campaigners in China and indeed across Asia to protect the genetic integrity, diversity and heritage of their rice.
As reported in this week's UK Guardian, Nina Federoff spoke about threats to science at a meeting of 8,000 professional scientists. The former Bush Administration official and GMO proponent described her "profound depression" at how difficult it is to “get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms.” I too have agonized over our inability to talk seriously about climate change.
However — and this is no small matter — by conflating fringe climate-deniers with established scientists raising valid concerns about the effects of GMOs, Federoff undermines the scientific integrity that she purports to uphold. The hypocrisy is astonishing.
On Tuesday, one of the world’s largest pesticide and biotech companies — Monsanto Corporation — held its annual general meeting in St. Louis. While protestors outside Monsanto headquarters highlighted growing public disenchantment with the industry giant and its genetically engineered products, investors in the meeting were voting on a shareholder resolution from PAN and Harrington Investments.
If passed, the resolution would require Monsanto to report on all financial risks and impacts, including contamination of neighboring crops, associated with its GE/pesticide seed package.
As frost silvers the still-green grass outside, and I take advantage of the mild Berkeley winter to sow a small cover crop in my garden, I’m reminded that winter is a precious time of renewal and regeneration: not only in the soil and on our farms, but also within our communities and our minds.