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Non-GMO Farmers, Consumers Still Seeking Protections from Transgenic Crop Systems

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Genetically modified crops designed to survive extra pesticides have been conventional agriculture’s way of “feeding the world” for the past few decades.  Yet health concerns, crop vulnerability and unwanted cross-contamination have been lingering questions, especially in the environmental health and organic agriculture communities.

Pesticide Action Network states on its website, “…pesticide producers have marketed their products as necessary to feed the world.  Yet as insecticide use increased in the US by a factor of 10 in the 50 years following World War II, crop losses almost doubled.  Corn is illustrative:  in place of crop rotations, most acreage was planted year after year only with corn.  Despite more than a 1000-fold increase in use of organophosphate insecticides, crop losses to insects rose from 3.5% to 12% (D. Piimental and M. Pimental, 2008).” Big ag differs, saying GMO crops use fewer pesticides instead of more.

The monoculture system of big crops like corn is another piece of the puzzle that troubles sustainable farmers like Ron Gargasz.  “These GMOs are going to be eliminating biodiversity,” Gargasz told  Gargasz is one of a large plaintiff group that recently took Monsanto to court to preemptively protect themselves against unwanted GMO crop contamination.  “I sense that the real problem with the situation is a lack of total understanding of what’s going on here,” said Gargasz. Gargasz, who formerly served as Pennsylvania’s Conservation Director, has raised grass-fed beef cattle and some organic crops on his small farm, also teaching college classes on organic growing. Gargasz says he stopped growing non-GMO soybeans a few years ago because of GMO contamination threats.

Maine organic potato farmer Jim Gerritsen reacted to the appeals court ruling after the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association lost its chance to have a case against Monsanto heard in a court of law.  “Even though we’re disappointed with the Court’s ruling not to hear our case, we’re encouraged by the court’s determination that Monsanto does not have the right to sue farmers for trace contamination. However, the farmers went to court seeking justice not only about contamination, but also the larger question of the validity of Monsanto’s patents.  Justice has not been served.”

Because the courts will not hear their case, the farmers’ question of whether a corporation may patent life itself remains unanswered, as does their concern  about increased use of the glyphosate brand Roundup.  Their complaint states, “…the existence of Monsanto’s transgenic seed is responsible for the increased use of glyphosate, and in particular Monsanto’s brand of glyphosate, Roundup, which studies have shown is harmful to human health.  Sophie Richard, et al., Differential Effects of Glyphosate and Roundup on Human Placental Cells and Aromatase, Environ Health Perspect 113:716-72 (2005) (“We conclude that endocrine and toxic effects of Roundup, not just glyphosate, can be observed in mammals.”)”  Monsanto has countered this health study and others, stating in the response to this study on its website, “The study, while interesting, has no relevance to a living animal. The implications of this in vitro experiment are contradicted by extensive live animal data and field studies reflecting real-world conditions.”  The President’s Cancer Panel in the United States has called for more study of suspected links between pesticides and cancer, yet public policy has not kept pace with scientific inquiry like theirs.

Efforts to achieve GMO labeling on foods for Americans continue, while 60 other countries around the world label GMO food already.  And the investigation has just begun into a mysterious patch of GMO wheat in Oregon and its implications for the future of America’s food system.  Why such big differences in perspective and understanding about the origins of food and whether GMO crops threaten traditional/organic systems?  “Kids don’t even know where food comes from,” lamented Gargasz, “we lost all that in one generation.”

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