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Archive | GMOs

Rethinking ‘Pandora’s Potatoes’

Former Genetic Engineer for J.R. Simplot & Monsanto, Dr. Caius Rommens Questions Biotechnology Safety, Authors Book on His Work with Potatoes

Dr. Caius Rommens

For 26 years, Dr. Caius Rommens was an ambitious and prolific genetic engineer. He held positions of great responsibility at major corporations. As director of the company’s biotech effort from 2000 to 2013, he developed GM potatoes for the Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Company, the leading U.S. producer of frozen French fries. These GM potatoes are being sold under innocuous names such as Innate, Hibernate and White Russet in thousands of supermarkets across the United States and Canada. They are not labeled as GMO.

Eventually, growing doubts about his GM creations led Rommens to question the validity of the simplistic dogma of biotechnology and renounce his career. His re-evaluation of the data and study of the broader scientific literature has given him insight into the risks and fallacies of the GM potatoes he created. He recently published a slim volume entitled Pandora’s Potatoes: The Worst GMOs to communicate what he has learned. Continue Reading →

Monsanto’s Scarlet Letter

By Mike Snow

Mike Snow has worked as a journalist in Asia, Africa, South America and Washington, D.C., reporting about international and domestic politics, health, travel and agriculture.

Since its founding in 1965, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has doggedly hunted for the causes of one of humanity’s most pernicious and persistent diseases. After IARC’s independent researchers concluded in 2015 that glyphosate, the premier ingredient in Monsanto’s broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and crop desiccant Roundup is “probably carcinogenic,” the hunter became the hunted.

Glyphosate, which has become integral to genetically engineered, industrialized agriculture, is found in products produced by 100 companies in more than 130 countries. Since its 1974 rollout, sales have skyrocketed from 3,200 to 825,000 tons per year, contributing mightily to the to the agro-chem giant’s roughly $16 billion annual revenue stream.

Neither glyphosate nor Monsanto (now Bayer) have been without controversy. The chemical is just the latest in a long line of products that have kept the 117-year-old-company lurching from one crisis to another, deflecting discomforting inquiries to marketers and lobbyists and, when real muscle was required, attorneys and politicians. But because of its star status in Monsanto’s product hierarchy, IARC’s designation of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” hit a raw nerve, triggering a cry for all hands on deck. Within hours of its announcement, the agency’s independent scientists found themselves caught in the crosshairs of a sustained, choreographed campaign aimed not only at discrediting them, but at taking them down. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Organic No-Till Farming

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from an Acres U.S.A. book, Organic No-Till Farming, written by Jeff Moyer. Copyright 2011, softcover, 204 pages. Normal Price: $28.00.

From Chapter 1: No-Till Basics

Organic No-Till Farming book

Organic No-Till Farming by Jeff Moyer

It is the hope and dream of many organic farmers to limit tillage, increase soil organic matter, save money, and improve soil structure on their farms. Organic no-till can fulfill all these goals.

Many organic farmers are accused of overtilling the soil. Tillage is used for pre-plant soil preparation, as a means of managing weeds, and as a method of incorporating fertilizers, crop residue, and soil amendments. Now, armed with new technologies and tools based on sound biological principles, organic producers can begin to reduce or even eliminate tillage from their system.

Organic no-till is both a technique and a tool to achieve farmer’s objectives of reducing tillage and improving soil organic matter. It is also a whole farm system. While there are many ways the system can be implemented, in its simplest form organic no-till includes the following elements:

  • annual or winter annual cover crops that are planted in the fall,
  • overwintered until mature in the spring, and then
  • killed with a special tool called a roller/crimper.

After the death of the cover crop, cash crops can be planted into the residue with a no-till planter, drill or transplanter. Whether you grow agronomic or horticultural crops, this system can work on your farm, and we’ll show you how to get started with this exciting new technology. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Foundations of Natural Farming

By Harold Willis

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A book, Foundations of Natural Farming, by Harold L. Willis. Copyright 2008, softcover, 367 pages. Regular price: $30.00.

Foundations of Natural Farming by Harold Willis

My, it’s dark down here in the soil. No wonder most people know so little about it. But that’s why we’re here, so let’s learn. Soil is the absolute basis of agriculture, and thus of all human existence, for as we have seen, we either eat plants grown in soil, or animals which eat plants grown in soil. Our soil has been called our most important national resource. Wise use and management of the relatively thin upper layer, the topsoil, is vital for maintaining good health and a high standard of living.

But through misuse, about 7-10 tons of topsoil per acre are being lost to erosion each year in the Midwest (the figure can be much higher in the worst areas). It may take several hundred years for 1 inch of soil to form. Obviously, we can’t keep on sending our topsoil down the river much longer.

Continue Reading →

Seeds of Organic Farming: Plant Breeding & Preserving Diversity

Scientist, Organic Farmer & Seedsman Alan Kapuler Discusses Organic Farming’s Past, Present & Future and Plant Breeding

Alan Kapuler graduated from Yale University in 1962 when he was just 19. He went on to receive a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from Rockefeller University. He is a seed saver, plant breeder, painter, organic farmer and public domain plant breeder advocate who co-founded Seeds of Change. He lives in Corvalis, Oregon. Kapuler shares the history and the origins of the California organic farming movement and its parallels with the national organic farming movement, as well as his own personal story and evolution as an agriculturalist, geneticist, organic grower, seed saver, plant breeder and biologist.

Interviewed by David Kupfer

Connecting with Nature

ACRES U.S.A. What was your first exposure to agriculture?

ALAN KAPULER. When I was nine or ten, my parents got an old chicken barn in upstate New York they bought for a summer country house. It was a big, long, low-ceilinged chicken barn they wanted to turn into a house, a place to live during the summer, as we lived in Brooklyn. We would go up there every summer for years. We used to get fresh corn and strawberries from a man who lived down the road. He had a field of corn and a bunch of strawberries. I remember that was the liberating experience of my life. It was probably one of the most formative things that happened to me because it was the first time I would go out in the corn and nobody knew where I was. I remember being safe in the cornfield. Back in Brooklyn I was getting beat up for one reason or another. Continue Reading →

GE Food Labeling

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking public comments on the proposed rule to establish the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard mandated by Congress in 2016 — a  standard for GE food labeling.

The goal of the standard is to provide a uniform way to offer meaningful disclosure for consumers who want more information about foods produced using genetic engineering (GE or GMO) and to avoid a patchwork system of state or private labels that could be confusing for consumers.

According to The Center for Food Safety (CFS), public comments will be particularly important because the proposal presents a range of alternatives for public comments and makes few decisions, leaving considerable unknowns about its outcome.

For example, instead of requiring clear, on-package labeling in the form of text or a symbol, USDA proposes to allow manufacturers to instead choose to use QR codes, which are encoded images on a package that must be scanned and are intended to substitute for clear, on-package labeling.

Real-time access to the information behind a QR code image requires a smartphone and a reliable broadband connection, technologies often lacking in rural areas. As a result, this labeling option would discriminate against more than 100 million Americans who do not have access to this technology.

Continue Reading →