Genetic Engineering Policy Alliance Newsletter January 17, 2009
Dear GE Network,
This is the newsletter of the Genetic Engineering Policy Alliance. The Alliance is a network of organizations and individuals promoting precautionary policies on genetically engineered food and agriculture. We are united in our concern about the impacts of genetically engineered crops and foods on agriculture, the public, and the environment.
For more information about the Alliance, see our Policy Platform.
There's Good News & There's Not So Good News
First, the good news
Appointments to the newly renamed California Senate Food & Agriculture Committee have been announced, and it's good news for sustainable agriculture and local food systems advocates. The committee added "Food" to its name, indicating a welcome and long overdue shift in perspective that recognizes the inherent link between agriculture and food, farmers and eaters. The new committee chair, Senator Dean Florez (D-Fresno), has a poor record on genetic engineering and support for family farmers. He was the author of a 2006 bill that would have overruled the local GE bans.
However, he did support AB 541, last year's bill that protects farmers contaminated by GE from liability, and we hope he can be educated. More hopeful is the appointment of Senators Fran Pavley (D-Los Angeles) and Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), two of the legislatures strongest advocates of environmental protection. The other two members are Senators Jeff Denham (R-Merced) and Abel Maldanado (R-San Luis Obispo). In sum, this committee represents an appropriate balance between Central Valley agriculture and urban food and environment issues.
Check out the committees' new website: CaliforniasSafeFood.com
And now the not so good news
The incoming federal Secretary of Agriculture is Governor Tom Vilsack, from Iowa. He is an outspoken champion of genetic engineering, and was named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization for his support of the industry's economic growth and agricultural biotechnology research. He is a booster of pharmaceutical crops, and has lobbied for the production of pharm corn in Iowa.
He was the author in 2005 of an Iowa bill that preempted all local restrictions on GE crops (even though no local ordinances existed). He is also a supporter of corn-based ethanol industry which is increasingly understood to be an unsustainable alternative to fossil fuels. To balance this out, it should be said that Governor Vilsack has made some positive contributions to sustainable agriculture more generally. He has curtailed the environmental impacts of large-scale hog farming in Iowa. He favors caps on farm subsidies. He is interested in opening trade with Cuba.
And, according to Denise O'Brien, an Iowa organic farmer and former candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Vilsack is a centrist, a problem solver and a listener. Under his administration, the Iowa Food Policy Council was created and made inroads on issues of food security, local foods, farmer's markets, and programs addressing the food needs of people in poverty.
Catholic Healthcare West Takes Action
Catholic Healthcare West, a member of the GE Policy Alliance, recently issued a press release announcing that its food purchasing dollars will be focused on promoting sustainable food production practices, in part by seeking alternatives to foods produced with genetically engineered sugar, as well as meat and dairy produced with animal clones.
The CHW position was developed in recognition of the serious health and environmental concerns these technologies raise and the threat they pose to healthier and more sustainable food production options. Among the concerns CHW is raising about genetically engineered and cloned foods are genetic contamination, increased pesticide use, animal cruelty, and the deep ethical and moral issues associated with these untested new technologies.
CHW recently asked eight of its largest food suppliers for their policies on genetically engineered sugar beets, which are being planted for commercial use for the first time this year. Results from the survey found that its suppliers would prefer non-genetically engineered sugar beets. Only Diamond Crystal indicated their intent to avoid buying genetically engineered sugar and that they will seek out suppliers that do not use genetically engineered foods through a validation process.
In Other News
No GE Ban in Lake County
In October we reported that the first hearing of a ban on the planting of all GE crops had passed its first hearing by the Board of Supervisors. However, the November elections resulted in a power shift on the Board, and in November the ordinance was tabled pending the recommendations of a citizens advisory committee.
Big Island Bans GE Coffee and Taro
Council overrides mayor's veto 7-0 amid big show of support
November 14, 2008
Reported by the Honalulu Advertiser
The Big Island County Council gave final approval yesterday to an ordinance making it illegal to grow genetically modified taro and coffee on the island, overriding a veto of the measure by Mayor Harry Kim. It is the state's first such ban.
An overflow crowd at the council's Hilo hearing room was overwhelmingly in favor of the ban, with organic farmers saying they worry that pollen from genetically modified crops could contaminate organic crops and destroy their livelihoods.
Mexican Corn Contamination Verified
December 11, 2008
Excerpted from TruthOut.org/121208D
A study conducted by Mexican, American and Dutch researchers demonstrates the presence of genes from genetically modified organisms (GMO) among the varieties of traditional corn cultivated in the remote regions of Oaxaca State in the southern part of the country, even though the Mexican government has always maintained a moratorium on the use of transgenic seed.
The results of this study incite the experts to demand much more restrictive protective measures. "Old time" agriculture as practiced in Mexico - where wind-blown pollination of corn is the norm and where peasants are in the habit of exchanging their seed - seems to aggravate the risk of rapid GMO contamination.
The study could relaunch the controversy that was unleashed in 2001 by a highly controversial article in the magazine, "Nature," the authors of which, biologists David Quist and Ignacio Chapela from the University of California at Berkeley, revealed that criollos (traditional) corn from the Oaxaca region - one of the cradles of that cereal - were contaminated by Roundup Ready (RR) and Bt genes, property of the American company Monsanto.
The study, by a team led by Elena Álvarez-Buylla of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City, will be published in the journal Molecular Ecology.
Government investigates cattle feed mishap with genetically engineered cotton in Texas
December 3, 2008
An unauthorized strain of genetically modified cotton was accidentally mixed in with other harvested cotton in Texas last month, but government officials on Wednesday played down any safety concerns. About a quarter ton of the experimental cotton seed engineered to contain a protein that produces a pesticide was combined with about 60 tons of commercial cotton growing nearby, said Eric Flamm, a senior adviser at the Food and Drug Administration.
The mixture, grown near Lamesa in West Texas, about 300 miles west of Fort Worth, was then stored along with 20,000 tons of commercial cotton seed in a warehouse. Nearly half the crop was processed into cottonseed oil and cotton meal to use as animal feed before officials at Monsanto Co., which grows the experimental cotton on a test plot, realized the mistake.
Flamm said most of the contaminated crop that was processed into animal feed had already been consumed at cattle feed lots. Two truckloads of the crop were delivered to Mexico, and U.S. officials have notified that country.
The FDA, Environmental Protection Agency and Agriculture Department are investigating to determine what enforcement action is warranted against Monsanto.
Government Accountability Office Calls for Increased Oversight of GMO crops
December 5, 2008
Excerpted from Reuters
More oversight and coordination is needed among federal agencies to prevent unapproved releases of genetically modified crops into the environment and food and feed supply, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress said on Friday. Since 2000, there have been six known unauthorized releases of GMO crops into the food supply involving GMO corn and rice.
Earlier this week, Monsanto Co., the leading developer of biotech crops, said some unapproved GMO cotton was harvested. The resulting cottonseed meal may have entered the livestock feed supply.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report that more incidents of unauthorized releases could have occurred in the United States and simply gone unnoticed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulate GMO crops.
"As pointed out by GAO, the three regulatory agencies still do not adequately coordinate their regulation of the food safety or environmental consequences of these crops," the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group, said. Each agency contends that the unapproved GMO crops that were released have not caused any harmful effects to people, animals or the environment. But, the releases have led to food recalls and lost trade opportunities that economists estimate cost producers millions of dollars, the GAO said.
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