Reclaiming the future of food and farming

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman's blog

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Organic vs Conventional. Is that really the question?

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.” 

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2,4-D corn: Another bad creation

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. 

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Monsanto's endless pipeline of bad ideas

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. 

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China puts the brakes on GE rice

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.  

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Wanted: scientific integrity on GMOs

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.

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All aboard the transgenic Titanic

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.

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How Virtuous Circles — Not Vicious Cycles — Will Save Us All

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.

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German biotech giant flees Europe

Last week the giant German pesticide and biotech company (and largest chemical company in the world), BASF, announced its decision to pack up and flee Europe.

Why? For 13 years, ordinary Europeans have stood firm in challenging the right of biotech companies to dump their risky genetically engineered (GE) seeds onto their fields and have steadfastly rejected the intrusion of GE foods onto their plates. They built up an informed and powerful citizens’ movement that has made itself heard, even over the din of the monied GE lobby. For this, hearty congratulations are due to our cousins across the Atlantic!

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Dow & Monsanto in deadly race on the pesticide treadmill

You’ve all heard the news: farmers across the country are losing their fields to superweeds so formidable and fast-spreading that they break farm machinery and render millions of acres of farmland useless. These superweeds have evolved as a direct consequence of Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready pesticide-seed package. Now superbugs are emerging, resistant to Monsanto’s transgenic insecticidal crops.

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Climate cowards & heroes

I spent the weekend glued to coverage of the high drama unfolding at the climate talks in Durban, South Africa. I watched closely because there is so much on the line affecting our and our children's future. In the final turbulent days, there were critical moments when a binding treaty with relatively ambitious and fair emissions cuts seemed almost possible. And then, well — the U.S. and our cronies played power politics behind closed doors, just as they have before.

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