Saturday, September 21, 2013

Labeling GM Foods: Local farmers reach out to Co-op members

So much is determined by seeds—a plant's vigor and suitability to our soils, climate and palates.  Seeds which are reproducible and adapted to local conditions are essential to the development of a truly sustainable agriculture.

Yet, we, small farmers, are vulnerable to inadvertent contamination of seeds that are our common heritage—improved and passed on since the earliest farmers began to grow, save, and trade them.  For instance, Monsanto's genetically modified (GM) Roundup-Ready canola and beets not only readily pollute organic and conventional varieties, but also cross-pollinate with weeds creating “Super Weeds” resistant to the herbicide, just as the GM seeds were designed to be.

For these reasons, Oregon's governor signed a law in August 2013 banning GM canola from the Willamette Valley. (1)

Should voters approve I-522 for labeling of GM foods in Washington this November, the Northwest  will undoubtedly be on the forefront of setting conscientious food and farming policies.

The perceived benefits of GM foods are debatable.  The risks are not readily quantifiable.  In terms of human health, scientific consensus on the safety of eating GM foods does not exist.  In the book titled Food Safety, UK researchers write: “Many people suffer from allergies and other disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, and for these the consumption of GM food may have unforeseen consequences and some of these may be irreversible.  Thus, for these, the clear labeling of GM food must be made mandatory."(2)

The risks to our natural environment are palpable when one ponders about the enormous scale at which GM crops are grown.  For example, Department of Agriculture statistics show that in 2013, 90% of all corn grown in the US, more than 87 million acres, was GM corn.  A significant proportion is Bt corn, a GM variety that produces a protein found naturally in soil bacteria.  As the millions of acres of Bt cornfields increased, so have rootworms increased their resistance.  As a result, more insecticides are used, as discussed in the National Public Radio story, As Biotech Seeds Falter,  Insecticide use Surges from the National Academy of Sciences, researchers published their findings regarding the impact of Bt corn on headwater stream ecosystems: “Our results indicate that Bt corn byproducts may have negative effects on the biota of streams in agricultural areas.”

So, why vote for labeling GM foods?  We deserve the right to know.  The benefits vs. risks of eating GM foods are a personal question.  Many of us seek qualities in our food such as color and ripeness that can be easily observed.  Yet, there are underlying traits such as nutritional composition, potential for allergenicity, and ecological footprint that can only be perceived if our food is labeled.  

Please vote Yes On 522.

Julie Puhich and Nancy Laich, Common Ground Farm
Megan Marini, Calliope Farm
Selma Bjarnadottir, Bone Dry Ridge Farm
Jennifer Belknap and Jim McGinn, Rising River Farm
Annie Salafsky and Sue Ujic, Helsing Junction
Joseph Gabiou and Asha McElfresh, Wobbly Cart Farm
Genine Bradwin, Colin Barricklow and Wendy Clark, Kirsop Farm

(2) Food Safety,  D'Mello, J.P.F. (editor), Cambridge MA (2003), p. 369    

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