Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : Nov. 9, 2005
* Voters Reject Sonoma Ban on Genetically Modified Crops
* Sonoma Co. Voters Defeat Genetically Engineered Organism Ban
* California Voters Say "No" on M, "Yes" to Biotech
* Green Meanies are Starving the GM Debate
* Which Website Tells Truth?
* The Republican War on Science
* Out of the Lab: Biotech-Crop Battle Heats Up As Strains Mix With Others
* ....AgBioView Readers Respond to Tainted Article
* Phoenix Environmentalism
Voters Reject Sonoma Ban on Genetically Modified Crops
- Associated Press, Nov. 09, 2005 http://www.mercurynews.com/
SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Sonoma County voters rejected a proposed ban on
planting or cultivating genetically altered crops. With 100 percent
of precincts reporting early Wednesday, Measure M lost 56 to 44
percent in one of the county's most expensive ballot fights ever.
Supporters and opponents of the proposed 10-year ban spent a combined
$850,000. Only three counties in the nation - all in California -
currently ban genetically altered crops. Lex McCorvey, executive
director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, which opposed the measure,
said the margin of victory was a "strong show of support for local
Opponents of the ban argued that most packaged foods in the United
States have some genetically modified component, and a ban could hurt
the local economy. "To place our local farmers and ranchers at a
competitive disadvantage to their peers in our state would have been
devastating," McCorvey said.
Sonoma County joined Humboldt, Butte and San Luis Obispo counties,
which also voted down similar biotechnology bans in November 2004.
"Regardless of the outcome, we think it's a tremendous victory
because of the grassroots support in the community," said Daniel
Solnit, campaign coordinator for GE-Free Sonoma County. "This fight's
going to continue, and I believe this country will be GMO-free within
Mendocino County voters in March 2004 were the first in the nation to
enact such a ban, overwhelmingly approving the measure despite a
well-funded counter campaign from the biotechnology industry.
Voters in Marin County, a mostly suburban region just across the
Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, followed suit later that year,
enacting their own ban on genetically modified crops. The Board of
Supervisors in tiny Trinity County also passed a similar ban.
Anti-biotechnology crusaders, who point to the health risks of eating
genetically altered foods, have lobbied for outright bans in Hawaii
and Vermont, but California remains the only state in the nation
where voters have enacted such bans. McCorvey said he hoped Tuesday's
victory would "send a strong message" to other counties that similar
bans should be blocked elsewhere in the state.
The bans are largely symbolic because few - if any - genetically
engineered crops were grown in those counties. The same is true for
Sonoma County, where the winemaking grape is king. No genetically
engineered grapes are commercially available.
Sonoma Co. Voters Defeat Genetically Engineered Organism Ban
- 11/09/05 3:15 PST http://www.cbs5.com/
SANTA ROSA (BCN) Sonoma County's proposed 10-year ban on genetically
engineered organisms was defeated Tuesday by more than 15,000 votes.
The tally, according to complete unofficial results provided by the
county's registrar of voters office, was 44.4 percent for and 55.6
percent against Measure M.
Fifty-eight percent of Sonoma County's registered voters cast ballots
in Tuesday's election. All eight state propositions were defeated in
Measure M would have prohibited the raising, growing, cultivating,
propagating, sale and distribution of most genetically engineered
organisms in unincorporated areas of the county. Four other counties
have approved similar measures. Organic farmers and the Redwood
Chapter of the Sierra Club favored the proposed ordinance banning
genetically engineered organisms. The Sonoma County Farm Bureau was
Dave Henson, director of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center,
wrote the measure. He said early this morning the GE-Free Sonoma
County campaign failed because of misinformation by opponents of
Measure M. "I think what happened was our opponents resorted to The
Big Lie,'' Hansen said. "They spent twice as much as us and told
people they wouldn't get their cancer or HIV drugs and vaccines. It
was a barrage,'' Hansen said.
In the final weeks of the campaign, the debate centered on the
ordinance's effect on vaccines. County public health officer Dr. Mary
Maddux-Gonzalez issued a press release on Oct. 31 stating that the
ordinance would not limit the sale or use of vaccines currently in
use for humans in the county. Maddux-Gonzalez said, however, that the
measure could potentially make it unlawful to sell or distribute in
the unincorporated areas of the county certain future vaccines that
rely on transgenic manipulation technology.
She mentioned vaccines for avian flu, HIV and West Nile virus that
are being developed and could contain transgenic organisms. Henson
said opponents of Measure M based their campaign on the fear
regarding availability of current and future vaccines.
GE-Free Sonoma County spent between $320,000 and $325,000 on the
campaign, and the measure's opponents spent about $600,000, Henson
said. Measure M supporters will continue their campaign for
sustainable agriculture and GE-Free organisms through other venues,
"The cat's out of the bag. No one can grow GE crops in Sonoma County.
We've blown the lid off that. People are watching,'' Henson said. Rob
Muelrath, a spokesman for the No on Measure M campaign, was not
immediately available for comment this morning.
California Voters Say "No" on M, "Yes" to Biotech
WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 9, 2005) -- James C. Greenwood, president
and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), released
the following statement on yesterday's 55-44 vote in Sonoma County
California to reject a proposed 10-year moratorium on biotechnology.
"By saying 'no' to Measure M, and 'yes' to biotechnology, Sonoma
County and all citizens continue to have access to modern technology
that is important to the health of people, pets, livestock and the
environment. Sonoma County can continue to enjoy the same economic
gains that biotechnology firms have brought to other California
"In addition, farmers and ranchers can continue to benefit from
agricultural biotechnology that has increased the state's food and
fiber production by more than 10 million pounds and improved farm
income by nearly $33 million per year. Sonoma's patients and pets
will have the same access as their neighbors to the medical marvels
that continue to evolve through the use of biotechnology."
Green Meanies are Starving the GM Debate
- Weekly Times (Australia), November 9, 2005
THE world's wealthiest nations have made a commitment to attack
global poverty and every one of us must be with them all the way. But
such support requires much more than shouting "and so say all of us!".
Our church management council has really struggled to work out how to
make an effective contribution to the world poverty solution. The
usual suggestions came forward but there is more to doing battle with
this evil than running a few cake stalls.
At the national level, we must be careful not to structure any aid
program so that sacrifice is felt only by one sector of society. The
starting point always is an examination of our personal understanding
and attitude on key issues.
For instance, mention genetic engineering of agricultural crops and
you'll have a heated controversy on your hands. Eliminating poverty
at least means providing low-income people with access to sufficient
food to fully meet their nutritional requirements, either through
domestic production or trade.
The World Health Organisation says up to 125 million children a year,
mainly with rice-dominant diets, suffer vitamin A deficiency. For
500,000 of those children, it leads to blindness and-or death. A
program began in 2000 to genetically engineer rice to produce
beta-carotene, which the human body can convert into vitamin A. This
modified rice is yellow, so it has been named Golden Rice.
Gerard Barry, co-ordinator of the Golden Rice Network, says that
since the program began, there has been collaboration between many
European and Asian research organisations to increase Golden Rice's
beta-carotene fivefold. The developers' intellectual property rights
have been donated for public use.
Dr Barry says that if the latest Golden Rice was consumed as part of
a normal rice-dominant diet, it would provide most, if not all, of a
person's daily vitamin A requirements. Trials are about to start to
But there is another side to this. Patrick Moore, an environmentalist
pioneer, now finds himself at odds with the attitude of some
Mr Moore says the European Commission had released the results of 81
scientific studies on genetic modification, with the conclusion that
this technology "had not shown any new risks to human health or the
environment . . . and the use of more precise technology and the
greater regulatory scrutiny probably makes GM plants even safer than
conventional plants and foods".
But we seem to have been overtaken by a "holier-than-thou" attitude
about many scientific developments.
An irrational and ill-defined passion for what so often is termed
"natural" is proving a huge barrier to the application of modern
processes to the task of universal justice. Eliminating poverty
deserves priority over the pet prejudices wealthy nations can afford.
Which Website Tells Truth?
- Western Morning News (UK) November 8, 2005
Biddy Garstang ("No case for GM crops", Letters, October 20) has not
quite understood the content of my letter, which was of much wider
scope than just the farm-scale evaluation trials of two years ago.
Also, she should read the website she quotes from more carefully. The
"environmental harm" she quotes was nothing to do with the nuisance
of crop-spraying to people living nearby, just to a variety of pests
and weeds that had been attacking the crops (GM and non-GM in the
same fields) during the growing season. The choice of sprays used was
left to the individual farmers - and nuisance to neighbours was not
evaluated by the trials. But it becomes more serious when she alleges
herbicide-resistant weeds are developing: research in Brazil shows
exactly the opposite. Anyway, it's pesticides that are more important
to most farmers, and a pesticide gene inserted into a crop
dramatically reduces the amount of spraying required for maize,
cotton and other crops. Just ask the farmers: they are not fools when
they find it much easier and cheaper to control pests the GM way.
Around the world, an area 200 times the size of Yorkshire is under GM
cultivation, and growing fast. That statistic can also be found on
the anti-GM web site http://www.genewatch.co.uk (from Prakash:
gmwatch.org ?), so I doubt whether Ms Garstang could justifiably
disbelieve it. So the "argument" for GM crops is being won by
individual choices of 8.25 million farmers, many in developing
countries, and growing by about one million a year.
I also wonder where she gets her "outdated industry propaganda" from.
There are several reliable websites, and the one I refer to often is
http://www.cropgen.org which is regularly updated and has on its
panel at least two fellows of the Royal Society. CropGen are quite
open about receiving limited support from the biotechnology industry
but they act entirely independently, and none work for the industry
or for reactionary groups.
- Dr Deryck Laming, Exeter
Interview with Chris Mooney, Author of 'The Republican War on Science'
- David Roberts, Grist Magazine, Sep. 27 2005
http://www.grist.org/advice/books/2005/09/27/mooney/ (Thanks to Andy
Apel for forwarding this)
Q: Has the Bush administration been especially adept at exploiting
conventional journalistic weaknesses, or are reporters lazier or more
credulous these days in covering scientific disputes?
A: The press doesn't generally help these matters. This is an
argument I have made twice now in Columbia Journalism Review. Through
their instinctive tendency to create a "balance" between two sides,
journalists repeatedly allow science abusers to create phony
"controversies," even though the scientific merits of the issue may
exclusively be with one side.
Here's my real fear when it comes to the press. Suppose there's some
mainstream scientific view that you want to set up a think tank to
challenge -- to undermine, to controversialize. Suppose further that
you have a lot of money, as well as an interested and politically
influential constituency on board with your agenda. In this
situation, it seems to me that as long as you are clever enough, you
should be able to set your political machine in motion and then sit
back and watch the national media do the rest of your work for you.
The press will help you create precisely the controversy that lies at
the heart of your political and public relations strategy -- and not
only that. It will do a far better job than the best PR firm, and its
services will be entirely free of charge.
I think we have actually seen this happen repeatedly. A good example
is the issue of evolution.
Q: So the right has, in effect, funded its own science, through a
series of think tanks and policy institutes. Should the left pump
more money into doing the same?
A: I think the left should, in general, continue to put its stock in
government-funded, university-based science published in leading
journals. This work should be further vetted through major scientific
assessment reports, and delivered to policy makers in the form of
consensus conclusions. On matters of science, the left needs to stand
up for rigor and quality analysis.
That's not to say the left shouldn't be creating think tanks to do
work in other areas -- including to combat the right's think tanks.
But as far as science goes, we already have very good sources of
information much of the time. The problem is that that information is
being distorted, denied, attacked, or ignored. That's what we need to
Q: Do you think environmentalists are misusing science to push their
view of global warming, or their other agendas? Do groups like
Greenpeace oversimplify in order to get attention, and, if so, do
they deserve criticism as well?
A: Environmentalists are not innocent of abuses. For example, some
have tried recently to argue that global warming caused Hurricane
Katrina. Well, scientists say you can't link global warming to any
particular event. Therefore, you shouldn't say you can.
In the book I cite some other examples. I do single out Greenpeace
for claiming that there are unique, inherent human health risks from
genetically modified foods. I think the evidence there is really
shoddy. I also talk about the issue of mercury pollution. Even as
industry wants to ignore the human sources of mercury, enviros have
not always been straight up enough about the nonhuman sources.
Out of the Lab: Biotech-Crop Battle Heats Up As Strains Mix With Others
- Scott Miller and Scott Kilman, Wall Street Journal, November 8, 2005
Huesca, Spain -- For 15 years Felix Ballarin labored to perfect a
strain of organically grown red corn. He figured the crop could fetch
twice the price of traditional yellow corn because local chicken
farmers say it gives their meat and eggs a rosy color.
But when the ears first emerged late last year, the farmer made a
horrifying discovery: Yellow kernels were mixed in with the red. As
government scientists would later confirm with a DNA test, the
kernels had been contaminated with a genetically modified strain. No
longer considered "organic," Mr. Ballarin's corn lost its premium
value and his decade and a half of careful breeding was down the
drain. "Why me?" he asked, pointing out the field choked with weeds
where the corn stood last year.
As genetically modified crops win a growing share of the world's
farmland, they are increasingly altering the makeup of traditional
crops like Mr. Ballarin's corn. "Biotech pollution," as critics call
it, results when genetically modified plants are mixed with ordinary
crops by mistake, carelessness or just the wind. With billions of
dollars in crop sales at stake, the issue is becoming a significant
one for governments around the world. And it is beginning to pit
growers of nonbiotech crops against the big biotech producers, as
each side battles to serve their very different markets.
U.S. farmers say they are losing out on exports because overseas
customers are afraid of contamination by genetically modified, or GM,
varieties. Farmers of organic produce in both Europe and the U.S. say
their crops are frequently tainted by stray GM seeds, forcing them to
buy seeds from as far away as China to ensure purity.
Growers of biotech crops in the U.S. increasingly worry the struggle
is hurting acceptance of their product both domestically and abroad.
Three California counties have banned GM crops, and a fourth is
considering doing so today. Beer-making giant Anheuser-Busch Cos. has
demanded that its home state of Missouri keep a GM rice project 120
miles away from rice it buys to make beer. The European Union is now
trying to establish buffer zones meant to halt the unwanted spread of
GM crops. Spain is close to fina.lizing a law that would require GM
crops to be grown at least 165 feet away from traditional varieties.
Such moves to restrict the spread of GM crops often are ineffective.
Last month in Australia, government experts discovered biotech canola
genes in two non-GM varieties despite a ban covering half the
country. "Regretfully, the GM companies appear unable to contain
their product," said Kim Chance, agriculture minister for the state
of Western Australia, on the agency's Web site.
St. Louis-based Monsanto Co., the global GM leader, last year dropped
plans to introduce the world's first bioengineered wheat amid fears
by Northern Plains farmers in the U.S. that the new plant would
contaminate the non-GM wheat they promise customers in Japan, Europe
and South Korea. Increasingly those countries are enforcing strict
rules on the makeup of non-GM products. Keeping out the GM strains
that foreign customers don't want is a growing expense for American
exporters. "It's just a mess for the grain traders," says M. Ann
Tutwiler, chief executive of the International Food and Agricultural
Trade Policy Council, a Washington think tank.
Future of Farming
Biotech crops have been held out by their producers and many
scientists as the future of farming, improving agriculture and even
human health. The first genetically modified plants made their own
pesticides and tolerated exposure to herbicide, making it easier for
farmers to spray weedkillers without hurting their crops. Scientists
are now engineering plants to grow on less water and fertilizer,
modifications that would reduce agriculture's toll on the environment.
Advocates argue that hardier plants could help Africa feed itself,
and that future generations of the technology promise groundbreaking
benefits. Already scientists have developed a strain of rice that
could be used as a source of missing vitamin A for poor Asians.
Monsanto is using genetic material from algae and fungi to modify
plants so that they make healthier vegetable oil.
Biotech company officials say small leaks aren't a surprise. It's
long been accepted in agricultural circles that farm fences are no
barrier to plant reproduction. They argue that the biotech boom in
the U.S. hasn't harmed the organic movement, pointing out that
organic acreage has climbed in the U.S. since the first genetically
modified crops were commercialized in the U.S. a decade ago. "We
think co-existence is a reality," says Christopher Horner, a
spokesman for Monsanto, which offers advice to buyers of its
genetically modified seeds on avoiding problems with neighboring
To be sure, Monsanto and rivals such as DuPont Co. and Syngenta AG
have a financial stake in how countries decide to deal with the leaky
nature of crop biotechnology. Moves to shift liability to growers of
biotech crops, or to the inventors, would slow the torrid growth of
the market, which has more than doubled Monsanto stock over the past
two years. Kevin McCarthy, an analyst at Banc of America Securities,
New York, figures that crop farmers around the world paid a $2.2
billion premium for biotech crops .this year, up from $1 billion in
GM critics have produced volumes of studies claiming to show that
biotech food can cause allergies or that the world's biodiversity
will be put at risk if biotech genes infect natural plants. All such
claims are adamantly rejected by the GM industry, which can call on
an equally large body of research to back up its counterarguments.
There's no evidence to date that biotech crops have caused any health
problems. And GM crops now make up a majority of the world market in
soybeans, along with big portions of the market in cotton, canola and
corn. Total GM acreage globally climbed 20% last year to 200 million
acres in 17 countries, according to the industry.
The U.S. government takes a laissez-faire attitude on GM
contamination. As long as the genetically modified material in
question comes from plants approved for human consumption, Washington
doesn't see any safety threat. "Why do they need to be treated any
differently?" asks Cindy J. Smith, deputy administrator of
biotechnology regulatory services at the U.S. Department of
Agriculture. "They're not any more unsafe."
Some local communities have stepped in. Mendocino County in Northern
California, known for wine and pears, was the first U.S. locality to
ban GM crops in March 2004. Nearby Sonoma County, a major wine and
dairy producer, could become the next when it votes today on whether
to declare a 10-year moratorium on GM crops; advocates of a ban fear
biotech grains being fed to milk cows could eventually cause some
unforeseen health problems, such as allergic reactions. Legislatures
in both California and Vermont, m.eanwhile, are considering measures
that would hold makers of GM seeds legally liable for incidents of
contamination. GM seeds carry a unique genetic sequence that can be
identified by testing laboratories.
In the Midwest, some similar measures have been considered but
rejected. So Lynn Clarkson, president of Clarkson Grain Co., a Cerro
Gordo, Ill., grain marketer that specializes in non-GMO crops, goes
to great lengths to try to keep his crops that way. He sends
inspectors to visit fields before they are harvested and requires the
farmers he contracts with to send him sealed plastic bags with
samples of their grain for testing before they are allowed to bring
their harvest to the elevator.
He uses an optical scanner to sort through blue and white varieties
of corn. Since the biotechnology industry has only genetically
modified yellow corn, the optical scanner kicks out any yellow corn
Despite the precautions, Mr. Clarkson finds genetically modified
organisms in 6% of the grain he contracts with farmers to grow. A
survey of organic farmers about their 2001 crops by the Organic
Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, Calif., found similar
results: About 7% of 270 growers of organic corn, soybeans and canola
reported GM materials in their crops.
Such a problem can be costly: An Illinois farmer can charge roughly
three times as much for organic corn as for genetically modified
corn. "Once we had to kiss good-bye to 20,000 bushels that had gotten
into our bins," says Mr. Clarkson. "If you are a biotech farmer and
your pollen comes over my fence, you are taking away my choice."
Now Mr. Clarkson is mulling growing crops in desert areas in parts of
South America where genetically modified crops have yet to penetrate.
"I think of it as a leaky technology. It is the nature of the thing,"
says Mr. Clarkson. In addition to adding to his costs, the
persistence of contamination is limiting his market, he says. "We
could do five times as much business in South Korea otherwise," Mr.
Japan and the EU, the U.S.'s third and fourth largest agricultural
exports markets, still allow small amounts of GM material in non-GM
goods. But South Korea, the U.S.'s sixth-largest market, is moving
toward forbidding genetically modified material of any kind in food
that is supposed to be 100% organic. That limits what Mr. Clarkson
can sell there.
Craig Wedig, a Cuba City, Wis., farmer, blames contaminated seed for
the GM crops that appeared on his organic cornfield in 2001. Mr.
Wedig, 28 years old, had a contract to sell his crop to a mill making
organic corn syrup for export. When the mill detected GMOs in the
third and fourth truckload from his farm, he had to sell the corn for
less money to a company making livestock feed.
The GMO discovery cost Mr. Wedig $2,250. He has since shifted his
business so that the only food he sells comes from the milk and meat
produced by his organic dairy herd. Genetically modified crops can't
be detected in the milk or meat of the cows that eat them. "My advice
to the organic farmers in Europe is to make sure that any GMO drift
becomes the legal responsibility of the GM farmer," says Mr. Wedig.
"Here, I'm responsible for my neighbor's pollen, and that's not fair."
In the 25-nation EU, most countries are working on rules governing
how far GM crops can be grown from non-GM ones. Some are so strict
that GM farmers worry they will amount to a virtual ban. European
reluctance to allow wider planting of GM crops is part of a dispute
the U.S. has brought against the EU at the World Trade Organization.
A ruling is expected in January.
The debate over GM contamination has surfaced most passionately in
Mexico. Four years ago, scientists from the University of California,
Berkeley, discovered that GM corn had mingled with native varieties
in the southern state of Oaxaca. The report, later supported by
Mexican government research, staggered local farmers. Mexican
peasants depend on corn for as much as 40% of their diet, using it in
everything from tortillas to a hot drink called "atole."
On Agustin Leon Santiago's family farm in Oaxaca, maize seeds have
been handed down from father to son for countless generations. "Each
family has its own heritage, expressed in corn," said the 73-year-old
patriarch, as three generations of Leons took a break from their
chores. "We feel that the day our traditional corn is contaminated,
we will lose a tremendous heritage going back thousands of years."
Mr. Leon's son, Jesus Leon Santos, is leading an anti-GM drive in the
region, producing pamphlets and encouraging local farmers to plant
only seeds that come from the region.
Nevertheless, the technology is spreading. In Europe, authorities
have begun approving GM strains to be sold there after an effective
ban on testing new biotech crops took effect in 1998. North of
Barcelona in Spain -- the only European country with GM crops before
the ban was instituted -- a trio of farmers took a late afternoon
break recently to argue in favor of biotech. Leaning against a
mud-caked Honda ATV parked next to rows of green corn stalks, Joaquim
Paretas said his farm would be doomed without .it. He plants a strain
of biotech corn that defends itself against an insect known as the
corn borer, a bug that burrows inside a corn plant, making it hard to
combat with traditional insecticide. The GM plant produces a protein
that, when eaten by the insects, gives them a deadly ulcer.
Traditional strains of corn, Mr. Paretas says, are weakened by the
bugs and are often destroyed by high winds that sweep over the region
late in the growing season. "If we didn't plant GM, we would face
fierce competition from countries like the U.S. and Argentina and
others who do," Mr. Paretas said. "We would have to give up our land
and raise goats."
Balancing the needs of Mr. Paretas and those of Mr. Ballarin, whose
red-corn effort took place around 220 miles away, is tricky.
Spain's evolving plan to require separating the GM crops from non-GM
varieties seems to satisfy neither side. Mr. Paretas says it will be
impossible to follow the rules as some of his scattered corn plots
are only a few rows wide. He says he'll instead work out agreements
with his non-GM neighbors to stagger their planting seasons.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ballarin says the 165-foot barrier is woefully
insufficient. Looking over his rolling field, he points to droplets
from a sprinkler carrying at least that far on the late afternoon
wind. Pollen, he believes, can easily float farther.
---- David Luhnow contributed to this article.
Comments of Greg Conko on the WSJ Story:
(1) mere outcrossing from a transgenic plant doesn't affect organic status,
(2) farmers of white corn have long had to worry that yellow kernels
would "contaminate" their crops, and (3) whether or not it actually
happened, Quist and Chapela did not find "that GM corn had mingled
with native varieties in the southern [Mexican] state of Oaxaca".
Re your GM crop article in the WSJ
- Peter Heifetz
Dear Mr. Miller and Mr. Kilman,
I just read your article in the Wall Street Journal today regarding
GM crop segregation issues. You do your readers a great disservice by
failing to mention that the preliminary findings of GM corn
contamination in Oaxaca you cited were not confirmed in a much larger
and more rigorous follow-up study published this year in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (S. Ortiz-García et
al., Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA doi10.1073/pnas.0503356102; 2005). In
fact, this recent study was conducted by some of the same researchers
who originally obtained the preliminary results in a Mexican
government-sponsored survey suggesting the adventitious presence of
GM germplasm, and the objective of the larger study was to confirm
these findings. Instead, the opposite result was found. You also do
not mention that the 2001 Quist and Chapela study, the first to
suggest such contamination, was withdrawn by the journal Nature.
There is thus now a question as to whether the Mexican landrace
contamination may have even occurred in the first place.
I am also curious at the implication in your article that all yellow
corn is genetically modified - clearly this is not at all the case.
Nearly all the world's corn is yellow, regardless of the presence of
biotechnology-derived traits, and portraying the lack of red or blue
color as a marker for genetic modification serves only to confuse the
The coexistence of GM/conventional and organic crops such as corn has
clearly become an important economic issue. However, you do not make
a convincing case for your viewpoint when the evidence you present is
both out of date and erroneous.
Peter B. Heifetz, Ph.D., Principal, Heifetz BioConsulting, San Diego, CA 92131
Response From Drew L. Kershen, Professor of Law, University of Oklahoma
About two months ago, you called me. You and I talked on the
telephone for more than an hour (1.75 hours if my recollection is
correct). You asked that I send you information on coexistence,
adventitious presence, organic standards, contractual specifications,
etc. I did. I sent you a gob of documents.
Not one of my comments, not one of my documents is reflected in your
co-authored piece in the WSJ (Nov. 8, 2005). Not one important
distinction or point I made is reflected in your piece. It is all
personal interest and fluff; it is all "woe-is-me victimization"
stories without any insight, analysis, context, or (ultimately)
integrity. Indeed, your piece is outdated and misleading in its
comments about Oaxaca because you fail to mention the recent work by
Alison Snow and others finding no transgenic presence in Mexican
Your co-authored piece propagandizes the myth that organic and
transgenic agriculture cannot coexist when that is factually false -
as shown by several documents that I sent to you.
Let me reiterate points that I made in our telephone conversation:
Coexistence occurs with ordinary agronomic practices that farmers use
routinely to segregate crops from one another. It is not unusual for
farmers to have both organic and transgenic fields on their farms.
Organic farmers do not lose organic certification as a result of
adventitious presence. What I have just said is the law in the U.S.,
Canada, and the EU. The IFOAM also makes clear that adventitious
presence does not affect the certification of organic status for the
farm or the product.
Organic farmers and their processors who enter into contracts with
promises of 100% purity (or to meet markets demanding 100% purity)
are taking an economic risk of being able to meet that specification
in return for the premium. The law is, and has been for a long time,
that a person who voluntarily enters a contract for a premium, if
higher specifications are met, is the person who bears the costs for
earning that premium price.
Sincerely yours, Drew Kershen
- Brad Allenby
As readers will recall from their training in the classics (or Harry
Potter), the phoenix is a bird that burns in old age, to be reborn
from its ashes. Regarding environmentalism, a recent poll sponsored
by Duke University speaks to the burning and old age: only 10% of
those polled identified the environment as one of their top concerns,
compared to 34% listing the economy and jobs. This would not be
remarkable if we were in a recession, but it is quite significant
given that the economy has been growing for a couple of years.
Moreover, 79% claimed they favored stronger environmental standards,
but only 22% said that environmental issues have played a major role
in their recent voting. Judging by the almost total lack of
environmental discussion in the last presidential election, even that
22% number is a gross overstatement of voter interest.
These numbers are in a sense simply validation of a trend that has
been apparent for at least ten years. Classic, ideological
environmentalism, born of the 1960's, is not just in trouble; as the
Nietzschean "The Death of Environmentalism" notes, it is deceased as
a viable mainstream public policy discourse. With notable exceptions,
the environmental community has not adjusted to this reality, instead
huddling in an ever shrinking self-selected band of true believers
waiting for the rest of the world to recover its senses and return to
the alter. This can be seen in the unchanging negativity of the
rhetoric of most environmental organizations; in the tendency to
cling to the Kyoto Treaty as if it were the only talisman capable of
granting safe passage to the future; in continued efforts to halt
rather than appropriately shape powerful technological waves such as
genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Thus, it is not surprising that to some the poll data represented "a
clear disconnect" (the quote is from William Reilly, former U.S. EPA
head). But in reality it does not. For most Americans, environmental
issues have always been only one good among many, and in general as
the most obvious environmental problems have been addressed, they
have switched their priorities to other good they also value, such as
jobs. For classic environmentalists, on the other hand, the
environment is a transcendent value, and thus cannot be balanced away
in such a risk/benefit calculus. The disconnect, therefore, is an
artifact, and an indicator, of an environmentalism whose age has
But there is a phoenix at work here, and an important one. It has
several characteristics. For one, it is more systemic than the
environmentalism it grows from, and displaces; whether reified as
"environmental justice" or 'sustainable development,' it integrates
social, cultural, and economic factors as well as just environmental
ones. For another, it rejects environmentalism as a dominant
discourse in favor of understanding, and creating tools and methods
for introducing, environmental dimensions into other human
activities, especially management and design of institutions,
products, and services. It also tends towards pragmatism, taking the
position that it is better to accomplish what can be done within the
world as it is, rather than insisting on an Edenic world that can
But perhaps most fundamentally, phoenix environmentalism rejects
Edenic teleologies and static utopianism and accepts complex adaptive
systems as preferable models of our current reality. This is a
difficult step, for it cuts strongly against powerful existing
emotions. It means accepting that humans will continue to impact
evolutionary biodiversity, while creating designed biodiversity in
companies and laboratories; that the world's ecosystems will change
profoundly as a result of human activity; that more technology, not
less, will characterize the world. It means accepting accelerating
change in all human systems, which, in an age that scientists have
already entitled 'the Anthropocene,' or the Age of Man, includes most
'natural' systems as well. Indeed, the carbon cycle, the nitrogen
cycle, material flows of all kinds, the biosphere, oceanic and
atmospheric systems -- these are increasingly shaped by human design
and human culture, and to deny this is simply to blink reality. In
such a period of rapid technological, cultural, and economic
evolution, ossified mental models based on unthinking attachment to
past patterns will inevitably fail.
The solution is not to deny ethical responsibility for outcomes, or
to retreat to irrelevancy, no matter how romantic. Rather, the
challenge is to develop a phoenix environmentalism that enables us to
ride turbulent waves of change while guiding them as best as possible
to be ethical, rational, and responsible.
Brad Allenby is professor of civil and environmental engineering at
Arizona State University, a fellow at the University of Virginia's
Darden Graduate School of Business, and previously was AT&T's vice
president of environment, health, and safety.