Archive for the ‘GMO’ Category


GM Crops Causing a Stir in Washington State, Mexico, and Hawaii

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By Sophie Wenzlau

Courts, councils, and voters across North America are weighing in on genetically modified (GM) crops this month.

Research on the health effects of GM crops is woefully inadequate. (Photo Credit: The Daily Mail)

In Washington state, voters are beginning to cast ballots in favor of or opposing Initiative 522, which would mandate that all GM food products, seeds, and seed stocks carry labels in the state. According to the initiative, polls consistently show that the vast majority of the public, typically more than 90 percent, would like to know whether or not the food they buy has been produced using genetic modification.

Initiative 522 is making big headlines. On October 16, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the initiative’s top opponent—the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—for allegedly violating campaign disclosure laws by concealing the identities of its donors. The lawsuit accuses the GMA, a D.C.-based food industry group, of infringing the law by soliciting and receiving contributions and making expenditures to oppose Initiative 522 without properly registering and reporting as a political committee, and of concealing the true source of the contributions received.

Days after Ferguson sued the group, the GMA agreed to name the companies that contributed to the $17.1 million campaign to defeat the initiative. High on the list are Pepsico, Coca-Cola, and NestleUSA, each having contributed more than $1 million. A more extensive list of donors, published by the Seattle Times, names General Mills, ConAgra Foods, Campbell Soup, The Hershey Co., and J.M. Smucker Co. as additional donors.

The fight to require labels on GM foods in Washington state is reminiscent of last year’s fight over Proposition 37—which also proposed mandatory GM labels—in California. According to California Watch, food and agribusiness companies, including The Hershey Co., Nestlé USA, Mars Inc., and Monsanto, contributed $44 million in opposition of Prop 37, while those in favor contributed $7.3 million. Although 47 percent of Californians voted in favor of Prop 37, it ultimately failed to pass.

Opponents of GM labeling have argued that the labels would imply a warning about the health effects of eating those foods, although no significant differences between GM and non-GM foods have been officially established. They also argue that consumers who do not want to buy GM foods already have the option of purchasing certified organic foods, which by definition cannot be produced using GM ingredients.

The initiative’s proponents, on the other hand, argue that GM labeling is about people’s right to know what is in the food they eat and feed their families. These groups argue that U.S. companies, which are already required to label GM foods in 64 countries around the world, should be required to provide the same information to shoppers back home.

“As things stand, you can find out whether your salmon is wild or farm-raised, and where it’s from, but under existing legislation you won’t be able to find out whether it contains the gene of an eel. That has to change,” wrote Mark Bittman, a food columnist for the New York Times. “We have a right to know what’s in the food we eat and a right to know how it’s produced. This is true even if food containing or produced using GMOs were the greatest thing since crusty bread.”



Organizations Push for Global Ban on Genetically Modified Trees

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Five organizations released a letter in early October 2012 to the executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity demanding a global ban on genetically modified (GM) trees. World Rainforest Movement, Global Justice Ecology Project, the Campaign to Stop Genetically Engineered Trees, Global Forest Coalition, and Biofuelwatch oppose the potentially damaging impact of GM trees on the environment and Indigenous communities.

GM trees pose inevitable and irreversible threats to forest ecosystems and the people who inhabit them. (Photo credit: Washington State Department of Natural Resources)

“The forestry industry is involved in developing GM trees for use in its industrial plantations, in order to achieve trees that can grow faster, have reduced lignin content for production of paper or agrofuels, are insect or herbicide resistant, or can grow in colder temperatures,” stated Isis Alvarez of Global Forest Coalition. “This research is aimed at increasing their own profits while exacerbating the already known and very serious impacts of large scale tree plantations on local communities and biodiversity.”

According to a 2012 report by Global Justice Ecology Project, GM trees pose “significant risks” to carbon-absorbing forest ecosystems and the global climate. Trees with less lignin would be more prone to pest attacks and would rot more quickly, altering soil structure and releasing greenhouse gases more quickly. Other dangers range from increased “flammability, to invasiveness, to the potential to contaminate native forests with engineered traits.” According to the Sierra Club, “the possibility that the new genes spliced into GE trees will interfere with natural forests isn’t a hypothetical risk but a certainty.” The substitution of natural forests by GM monocultures for industrial use would also threaten biodiversity, in the same way that oil palm plantations do today. Many of these consequences would impact Indigenous communities, reducing the ecosystem services that they rely on for their livelihoods and survival.

Despite these risks, several GM tree projects are moving forward. The GM tree research and development company ArborGen has a request pending with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to sell half a billion cold-tolerant eucalyptus seedlings each year for bioenergy plantations in the southern United States. Since eucalyptus trees are a documented invasive species in both Florida and California, this has raised red flags for many. Both the Georgia Department of Wildlife and the US Forest Service have submitted comments to the USDA expressing concerns about the impact of plantations on native ecosystems. Meanwhile, several universities, timber corporations, and seedling manufacturers in the Pacific Northwest are also collaborating to develop GM poplar trees for bioenergy production. About 30 species of poplar trees already grow from subtropical to subalpine regions across the United States, Canada, and Europe, meaning there is a serious risk of genetic contamination.

The Sierra Club warns that the “commercial development of out-of-doors applications in the absence of environmental safeguards is a prescription for disaster,” and it is clear that GM tree plantations pose inevitable and irreversible threats to forest ecosystems and the people who inhabit them. Today, 245 organizations and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations from 49 countries support a global ban on GM trees, according to Global Justice Ecology Project.

Do you think the development of GM trees should continue? Are there ways to regulate and limit the negative impacts of GM trees on the environment? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

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  3. Food & Water Watch Campaigns to Remove GE Corn from Walmart
  4. USDA Gives Green Light to GE Alfalfa

21 Awesome Policies Changing the Food System!

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Today we celebrate World Food Day in commemoration of the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It is a chance to renew our commitment to sustainable and equitable agriculture as a means of ending world hunger.

Around the world, governments and organizations alike have made huge strides towards achieving the principles on which the FAO was founded. Governments on every continent have taken significant steps to change food systems for the better, making them more sustainable, healthy, and accessible to all. Today, we showcase just 21 of the many recent policies and laws enacted by governments worldwide that are helping to change the food system, promote sustainable agriculture, and eradicate hunger.

1. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in 2010 with a focus on improving the nutrition of children across the United States. Authorizing funding for federal school meal and child nutrition programs, this legislation allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make real reforms to school lunch and breakfast programs and promote healthy eating habits among the nation’s youth. Read more about the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and 15 innovations making school meals healthier and more sustainable on the Nourishing the Planet blog.

2. The Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) was founded in 2011 to help improve the provision of services to farmers in the country. It focuses on adapting its policies to local needs, developing sustainable production systems, and providing farmers and consumers with education, techniques, and services to help supply Rwandans with better foods. The RAB has received praise for its efforts from organizations like the Executive Board of the Forum for Agriculture Research in Africa.

3. Beginning in 2008, the Australian government committed $12.8 million for 190 primary schools across Australia to participate in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. Hoping to encourage healthy and nutritious eating habits in young Australians, the program works with primary schools to teach students how to grow, harvest, prepare, and share fresh food.



Ask Trader Joe’s to Support Labeling of GM Foods

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By Carol Dreibelbis

On November 6, California citizens will vote on Proposition 37. This ballot initiative would require labeling of raw or processed foods made with genetically modified (GM) materials and prevent GM foods from being labeled as “natural.”

Trader Joe’s currently refuses to support labeling of GM foods through Proposition 37 (Photo credit:

Mark Bittman, a food writer for The New York Times, explains that Proposition 37 is not just a ban on GM foods: “it’s a right-to-know law.” He continues, “We have a right to know what’s in the food we eat and a right to know how it’s produced.” Bittman points out that Proposition 37 has received bipartisan support in California as well as across the country (91 percent of American voters support the labeling of GM foods).

Despite widespread support for Proposition 37, Trader Joe’s—one of the largest organic retailers in the country—currently refuses to support the ballot initiative, even though Whole Foods Market and other competitors have already shown their support for the labeling of GM foods. At the same time, agribusiness companies like Monsanto are funding hefty campaigns to defeat Proposition 37.

Even if you are not a citizen of California, you can have a say in this election. If you would like to find out more about Proposition 37 and encourage Trader Joe’s to support the initiative, you can read and sign this petition by SumOfUs, a movement for corporate accountability.

According to Claremont McKenna College professor Jack Pitney, the election in California will have ripple effects across the country: “If manufacturers change national labeling practices to conform to California law, the effects will show up on every grocery shelf in America.”

Click here to ask Trader Joe’s to support labeling of GM foods.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Similar blog posts:

  1. New Study on Monsanto Maize Raises Serious Concerns about Safety of GM Foods
  2. Benbrook Study on GM Crops and Pesticides
  3. New Harvest’s Jason Matheny Shares Perspectives on the Future of Meat Alternatives
  4. The Challenges of Organic: Scott Updike of the USDA National Organic Program Speaks
  5. Monsanto Receives ‘F’ on Sustainable Agriculture Test
  6. Food & Water Watch Campaigns to Remove GE Corn from Walmart

New Study on Monsanto Maize Raises Serious Concerns about Safety of GM Foods

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By Rachael Styer

A new study released by Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen in France and the independent research organization CRIIGEN is the first peer-reviewed lifetime feeding trial of Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) Maize NK603 and the widely used herbicide Roundup. Previous studies regarding the safety of GMO foods for human consumption observed the effects of low-level consumption of GM foods by rats for only 90 days, a period of time roughly equivalent to a rat’s adolescence.

Rats consuming low-levels of Monsanto’s maize NK603 suffered mammary tumors and severe kidney and liver damage (Photo Credit: Linda Eckhardt)

Seralini’s study examines the health effects of GM maize consumption on rats over a period of two years, a rat’s average lifespan, and the results of the study are startling. Rats consuming low-levels of maize NK603 and the popular herbicide Roundup (individually or combined) suffered from mammary tumors and severe kidney and liver damage, conditions that typically led to premature death. Fifty percent of male rats and 70 percent of female rats fed on the substances died prematurely, compared to 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively, for the control group. To hear the experts discuss the study’s results further, check out this video interview posted by the UK’s The Grocer.

While GM foods have been touted as an efficient and effective way to feed a growing global population, the results of Seralini’s study suggest that perhaps those seeking a solution to problems of global hunger should focus their efforts elsewhere. Patrick Holden, the Founder and Director for the Sustainable Food Trust, expressed this sentiment in a press release about the study: “GM crops hold out the promise of helping to meet the triple challenges of climate change, resource depletion and population increase, but if they have negative effects on health we need to recognize this as quickly as possible and apply our energies in other areas.”

Consumer concern over the safety of GM foods is nothing new. Since the early 2000s, retailers have responded to consumer demand by labeling non-GM products in their stores, including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value brands. And the controversy over whether GM food labeling should be mandatory is playing out in California as voters and lawmakers debate the merits of Prop 37, a ballot initiative which would require food sellers in California to label most products containing GM ingredients.

Although the study already underwent the peer review process, its methods have drawn criticism from other experts; Tom Sanders, head of the nutritional sciences research division at King’s College London, claims the authors went on a “statistical fishing trip.” But, Michael Antoniou, a molecular biologist also from King’s College London and a collaborator on the paper, defended the study’s results while still acknowledging the need for more research. Antoniou commented to reporters, “I feel this data is strong enough to withdraw the marketing approval for this variety of GM maize temporarily, until this study is followed up and repeated with a larger number of animals to get the full statistical power that we want.”

What do you think? Do GMOs present a public health risk? Let us know in the comments!

Rachael Styer is a research Intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.


Saturday Series: An Interview with Ken Dabkowski

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By Molly Redfield

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone?  E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Name: Ken Dabkowski

Affiliation: M·CAM/Global Innovations Commons

Bio: Ken has been a part of M·CAM and the Global Innovations Commons (GIC) initiative for about 3 years. At M-CAM he helps the organization with its communications and foreign affairs. The key concept behind all M·CAM initiatives is the idea that while everyone on the planet does not have access to the same resources, everyone does have access to creativity. By expanding common threads of knowledge through GIC and connecting creative collaborators, people can bring viability to an idea. Prior to working with M·CAM, Ken worked at The Arlington Institute, a future technologies think tank located in Virginia. His work at the Arlington Institute consisted of formulating different scenarios related to the government, economy, environment, and security for communities, companies, and governments.

What exactly is the Global Innovations Commons?

The Global Innovation Commons is a worldwide repository of innovations primarily focused on agriculture, clean water, health, and clean energy. The open source repository allows anyone to compile a library of innovation that can then be applied to a greater scale collaboration either locally or globally. These innovations and ideas are then open to the rest of the world. The idea is to create a place where anyone can come in, learn about something, and then share it. That’s how all of the participants start to build a larger knowledge base. Much of what is posted includes innovation artifacts that have expired, are invalid, abandoned, or have limited geographic coverage. When descriptions of these technologies are listed, the contact information of the innovators is included. That way there can be collaborations on these new applications. One of the open source tools embedded within the Global Innovation Commons is a tool called Integral Accounting. This assessment tool takes into account different aspects of value, such as cultural value, commodity, wellbeing, technology, knowledge, and environmental impacts. Communities that want to develop certain capacities can inform their decision making process with value already present in their community and align these values with their expectations of well-being. The Integral Accounting tool is being deployed in several communities globally and provides the vital foundation for all collaborations.



Benbrook Study on GM Crops and Pesticides

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By Catherine Ward

Genetically Modified (GM) crops were first introduced into the commercial food production system in the late 1990s and, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), GM crops were being cultivated on more than 1 billion hectares around the world by 2010. During 2011, over 16 million farmers worldwide were involved in planting 160 million hectares of GM crops, making biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in modern times.

New data shows that GM crops do not reduce the quantity of pesticides needed for crop production (Photo Credit: Petr Kratochvil)

The scientific community and GMWatch have since raised concerns over the use of GM crops as a possible danger to health and the environment. New data from a study carried out by Dr. Charles Benbrook shows that GM crops do not reduce the quantity of pesticides used in their production over time, and crops now considered herbicide-tolerant include corn (Bt corn varieties), soy, and cotton (Bt cotton varities).

Benbrook analyzed pesticide use on GM and non-GM equivalent crops over 16 years (1996-2011), with findings showing that herbicide-tolerant crops have increased pesticide use by 239 million kg over this time period. For example, increased herbicide use on GM herbicide-tolerant cotton was 0.4 kg per acre more than its non-GM counterpart. Similarly, herbicide use on GM soy was 0.3 kg per acre more than non-GM soy.



New Harvest’s Jason Matheny Shares Perspectives on the Future of Meat Alternatives

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By Kevin Robbins

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, between 1970 and 2010 the number of cows raised for human consumption rose 32 percent to reach 1.4 billion, pigs rose 76 percent to reach 965 million, and chickens rose 273 percent to reach 19.4 billion. But despite its popularity, current levels and methods of meat production and consumption can have an adverse effect on human health, the environment, and animal welfare.

Jason Matheny is working to produce economically viable meat substitutes. (Photo credit:

New Harvest is an organization that supports research regarding economically viable meat substitutes and provides a forum for sharing related innovations. In the interview below, New Harvest founder Jason Matheny talks about the work of the organization and his perspectives on the future of meat alternatives.

Why did you start New Harvest and what is its primary focus?

I founded New Harvest in 2003 because there wasn’t an organization devoted to advancing technologies for new meat substitutes. There are several companies making plant- or mycoprotein-based meat substitutes, but there was no organization working on more advanced technologies, such as cultured meat, and no organization looking broadly at how to replace animal proteins with advanced substitutes. We fund academic research, conferences, and economic and environmental assessments. We’ll probably continue focusing on these areas, since it addresses an important need.



The Challenges of Organic: Scott Updike of the USDA National Organic Program Speaks

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By Marlena White

Scott Updike is an Agricultural Marketing Specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s National Organic Program Standards Division and recently spoke to the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future about organic standards for meat production and processing. He also touched on how meat production fits into the organic model and just what organic means in the first place.

Scott Updike of the USDA’s National Organic Program spoke about organic standards for livestock production. (Image credit: USDA)

“There are a lot of misperceptions about what organic is and is not” Updike says. The organic label, he explains, is strictly about the process, and does not refer to its health, nutritional, or taste qualities. When meat is certified organic, it means that methods and standards have been followed from the raising and feeding of the animal, to the processing, packaging, and transport of the final product.

When questioned why the organic standards do not focus more on the environment, Updike points out that the organic standards are a broad based set of regulations that encompass maintaining or improving natural resources, animal health and living conditions, minimal use of synthetic substances, and not using excluded methods (like genetic modifications). The organic community is very involved in the development of organic standards, but what organic means differs from person to person.

These differences in opinion, Updike explains, are often due to the various motivations people have for embracing organic. For example, Updike referenced a former National Organics Standards Board (NOSB) member who was a self described “chemophobe” wanting artificial chemicals out of the food supply. Other consumers want to support more environmentally sustainable production, while for some, it is most important to avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms). In addition, when the legislation authorizing the National Organic Program was written, organic crop production was more understood than organic livestock production, leading to less clear management requirements for organic livestock.



Monsanto Receives ‘F’ on Sustainable Agriculture Test

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By Jameson Spivack

Monsanto, the agricultural biotechnology corporation perhaps most known for its controversial genetically modified (GM) crops, has been given the failing grade of ‘F’ for sustainability by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The company advertises itself as dedicated to sustainable agriculture, but UCS believes it does not fulfill these promises. “In reality, the company is producing more engineered seeds and herbicide and improving its bottom line, but at the expense of conservation and long-term sustainability,” says Doug Gurian-Sherman, one of UCS’ Food and Environment Program’s senior scientists.

Monsanto received a failing grade of ‘F’ from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) for sustainability. (Image credit: UCS)

UCS, a respected nonprofit science advocacy group, defines a sustainable production system as one that produces enough food, preserves the environment, and protects farmers’ bottom lines. Reportedly, Monsanto does not satisfy  UCS’ criteria for these principles.

Monsanto believes its GM varieties are the key to eliminating world hunger, by altering crops in ways that increase yields. This includes plants, such as the Roundup Ready variety, that are resistant to extensive herbicide use. But according to UCS, there is little evidence that these genetically engineered crops do anything to increase yields, with some studies actually showing a decreased yield, or “yield drag.”

UCS claims there are eight specific ways Monsanto has failed to deliver on its sustainability claims and undermined efforts to promote sustainability: