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Metrowest Daily News: Levin: Agribusiness confuses issues on GMO labeling

By Martin E. Levin
Guest Columnist
May. 16, 2015
Full Article

A federal court has just turned back industry efforts to stop Vermont from enforcing its first-in-the-nation law requiring labeling of genetically engineered foods. Similar labeling legislation is now pending in Massachusetts, and has the support of over 75 percent of the Legislature.

One day after the court decision, a group calling itself the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food pressed the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a bill (H.R. 1599) that would prohibit such labeling in Vermont, Massachusetts, and every other state. The Coalition includes the four large food trade associations that were unsuccessful in the court case, as well as companies such as Monsanto and Dow – each big agrichemical companies at the forefront of developing and marketing genetically engineered seed.

Independent polls have found that 90 percent of consumers want to know which foods on the grocery shelves were the result of genetic modification taking place in biotech labs over the past two decades, rather than traditional agricultural methods developed over hundreds of years. The Coalition asserts that labeling will confuse consumers and cost them more money at the checkout counter. But the confusion being sown is in no small part due to the lengths, and costs, to which labeling opponents go to defeat consumer demand for transparency.

Coalition claims about genetically engineered seed include that they are good for the environment, increase crop yield, and help keep food production costs down. But the Monsanto seed largely responsible for converting over 80 percent of U.S. corn and soy fields to genetically engineered crops was developed to permit the use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup, even during the growing season. Through genetic manipulation, Monsanto developed corn and soy that could survive glyphosate applications that kill surrounding weeds. The outcome after 20 years of cultivation, as reported by the USGS: Glyphosate use has rocketed from 5,000 to over 80,000 metric tons per year, and glyphosate and its related degradation product now occur widely in the environment. Unsurprisingly, a study published last year in the peer-reviewed journal, Food Chemistry, found high glyphosate and related residues on genetically engineered soybeans, while conventionally and organically grown soybeans had none. Moreover, independent scientific research and reviews have concluded that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, and that glyphosate-based herbicides promote antibiotic resistance.

Independent research has also challenged claims of increased crop yield. For example, one study, published last year in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, analyzed 50 years of yield data for U.S. Midwest corn production and production in comparable corn-growing areas of Western Europe. Western Europe, which has largely rejected the genetic engineering approach promoted in the U.S., had corn yields similar to or slightly higher than the U.S.

Nor do claims of lower cost of production acknowledge the costs to develop and bring a genetically engineered product to market. One study put that cost at $136 million, and this does not even account for the many “false starts” that die in the lab. Seeking to maximize profit in the face of such high R&D costs, agribusiness vigorously defends its patents on its seed. Agribusiness will only “license” farmers to use its genetically engineered seed from year to year, rather than permitting farmers to save seed from one season for reuse in the next. Claims that labeling will cause prices of genetically engineered foods to spike ring hollow when coming from an industry that has been willing to pay over $100 million in the past three years to beat back labeling referenda in a handful of western states.

In light of these and other concerns, what consumers want is something simple – to be told whether foods offered in their grocery stores are part of a production method different in nature from what preceded it for many hundreds of years. Then, they can choose to buy or not. There is nothing confusing about that.

Martin E. Levin, formerly Massachusetts’ chief environmental prosecutor, practices environmental law in Framingham.


Eater: Neil Young’s New Music Video Mocks Starbucks, Monsanto, and GMOs

By Khushbu Shah

Folk legend and environmental activist Neil Young has released the first music video from his anti-GMO concept album, The Monsanto Years, with his band Young and Promise of the Real. The song, titled “Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop,” pokes fun at Starbucks, agrochemical giant Monstanto, and genetically modified organisms.

In the video, Young, while singing lyrics like “I want a cup of coffee, but I don’t want a GMO. I’d like to start my day off, without helping Monsanto,” throws Starbucks cups at the camera alongside members of his backing band, which include Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah. It’s no surprise that the first single focuses on Starbucks. Young announced last last year that he was boycotting the coffee giant because of its association with Monsanto. Time writes that the agrochemical company “lobbied against proposed legislation in Vermont to label GMOs.”

The album — which rails against the billion-dollar GMO business and its corporate supporters — is set to be released at the end of June. Young and his band will go on an (GMO-free) tour this summer, starting in July.


Burlington Free Press: Vermont businesses ride GMO-free ‘megatrend’

Emilie Teresa Stigliani
May 31, 2015
Full Article

After a long scan of the organic-vegetable cooler, Penelope Wall added several items to her cart.

“Oh my gosh!” Wall said. “I’m about to spend $5 on a bag of baby cucumbers.”

She pinched one of the bright green gherkins and added, “But they look really crunchy and I’m excited to eat one.”

Wall picked her way through City Market’s eclectic-but-lightly-stocked produce section on a Sunday afternoon in May. The Burlington mother of two toddlers, who were napping at home, said she tries to shop organic and local. Her reasons include the desire to get the freshest food possible, to support community agriculture and to avoid genetically modified organisms.

Wall’s preference of avoiding GMOs contributes to a market for non-GMO labeled food that’s predicted to reach $264 billion in 2017, according to a 2013 article by FoodNavigator-USA, a publication that covers the North American food and beverage industries.

Allison Weinhagen, community engagement director of Burlington’s City Market, said the coop receives few requests to carry more non-GMO labeled products.

“My guess is that our customers already expect us to have these types of products, which we do, and that some of our vendors are headed in the non-GMO labeling direction already,” she said.

Wall, 35, said she hasn’t done enough research to feel certain that GMOs are harmful, she feels equally uncertain about including them in her family’s diet.

“If it’s easy enough and affordable enough to avoid GMOs, I’d rather not buy them,” she said.

Wall also fits into the results of a national survey, reported by FoodNavigator-USA, of 2,000 U.S. adults. Consumers “most concerned” about GMOs, according to the 2013 survey, were urban middle-class mothers in their mid-30s with young children.

While Wall tries to steer clear of GMOs, she’s not militant.

“I tend to buy organic because it’s non-GMO, but then I’ll buy Cheerios,” Wall said. Her children both have food allergies, and she knows that Cheerios are safe for them to eat. Cheerios claim to be GMO-free but have no official certification.

Wall said she supports a more consistent labeling policy, like the one passed by the Vermont Legislature in 2014. Even though, she considers herself a “pretty well-informed” shopper — she worked for a number of years at Shelburne-based EatingWell Magazine — she feels like it’s hard to know if GMOs are present in a product unless she buys organic. A USDA Organic certification automatically means that a product is free of GMOs.

Gov. Peter Shumlin signed Vermont’s GMO labeling bill into law on May 8, 2014, to the applause of proponents and the threat of litigation by food industry manufacturers. The law, which is written to require products containing GMOs to be labeled as such, is slated to go into effect on July 1, 2016.

As the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association and other industry groups fight Vermont’s GMO-labeling law in advance of its enactment, some small Vermont businesses, as well as the multi-billion-dollar Whole Foods grocery chain, are instead focused on responding to a market demand and embracing GMO-free labeling.

“It’s a growing segment that customers are looking for,” Vermont Retail & Grocers Association President Jim Harrison said during a May 12 interview.

Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture seems to be taking note. The department recently developed a process for voluntary GMO-free certification, according to the Associated Press.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote to U.S. Department of Agriculture employees that this label was spurred by a request from a “leading global company.” In the same letter, Vilsack stated that companies were “lining up to take advantage of this service.”

Whole Foods has publicly pledged to label all food products in its U.S. and Canadian stores by 2018. And some Vermont food businesses, facing the state’s deadline, have already certified their products as non-GMO.

Above and beyond the law

Liz Holtz, owner of Waitsfield-based Liz Lovely, began the process of certifying her cookies as GMO-free in July 2013. Holtz said her decision to certify was unrelated to the passage of Act 120, Vermont’s GMO-labeling bill.

“We were choosing that anyway,” Holtz said.

The certification fit with her vision of responsible business practices. That vision includes offering a range of vegan, gluten-free treats and paying her employees a living wage, at least $13 per hour as set by the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.

Vermont’s law does not require labeling for non-GMO products. A grower or manufacturer could prove a product is GMO-free by signing a sworn statement that the food was not knowingly or intentionally produced or contaminated with GMOs.

State Reps. Jim McCullough, D-Williston, and Kate Webb, D-Shelburne, two of the bill’s original sponsors, said the law was written to place the onus on food producers using GMO technology.

McCullough said his rationale was twofold.

“My personal belief is it is the responsibility for the seller/manufacturer to reveal what their food product contains,” McCullough wrote in an email. “It seems silly to me to require a seller/manufacturer to list all the things their product does not contain.”

Weinhagen, City Market community engagement director, said she supports placing the labeling responsibility on those using GMOs.

“It’s a heated topic,” Weinhagen said. “We look forward to more people going through the verification, for sure, but we still support the legislation. And we think that you should say what goes into the product.”

The state’s GMO law says that no additional verification is required for food that is non-GMO certified by an independent organization approved by the Attorney General’s Office.

Holtz chose to work with third-party verifier Non-GMO Project.

The Washington-based nonprofit touts itself as North America’s fastest-growing third party to offer non-GMO verification and labeling. The nonprofit has verified more than 27,000 products and its monarch-butterfly label can be spotted on almost any shelf in Burlington-area grocery stores.

Ben Maniscalco, owner of Montpelier-based Benito’s Hot Sauce, also chose to certify his fiery condiments with the Non-GMO Project. He started the verification process in September 2013 to show customers that he supported GMO labeling guidelines. He now has five products verified with the organization and two more certifications in the works.

Harrison, of Vermont Retail & Grocers Association, noted that non-GMO labeling bears similarities to gluten-free labeling. When consumers took an interest in avoiding gluten, some companies began labeling their products as gluten-free even if it was never even present in the food.

Non-GMO Project Associate Director Courtney Papineau called non-GMO labeling a “megatrend.”

While there a is a limited list of foods the are high-risk for containing GMOs — such as canola, corn and soy — they can be pervasive in manufactured products, Papineau said.

Papineau noted that some products may seem like they’re low risk but actually contain high-risk ingredients. She gave the example of trail mix that is sprayed with GMO canola oil. She pointed out that only labeling high-risk products could leave a gap in information available to the consumer.

“What we are after is transparency,” Papineau said.

Managing ‘red tape’

Liz Lovely had to wait about six month before the company received its first Non-GMO Project Verified label, said Holtz, who added, “The red tape is a nightmare.”

While Non-GMO Project issues the certification, the scientific review of products must be done by one of four approved companies that specialize in auditing and testing for GMOs. There is a bottleneck in the review process, which the Non-GMO Project is trying to address. When Holtz switched to a new reviewer the process sped up, but at double the cost.

The Non-GMO Project offers no help with finding ingredient substitutes, Holtz said, because of confidentiality issues with other companies. Liz Lovely’s regular cream of tartar vendor was able to find a new source that supplied the unmodified ingredient. The GMO-free version cost only a little more than the brand Holtz previously used.

Holtz — whose 18 employees include one dedicated “compliance guy” — also has gluten-free, vegan and kosher certifications. All those certifications take continued work. For example, a rabbi visits the bakery once a month to maintain the kosher certification.

The Non-GMO Project website states that the price of verification depends on how many products are certified and whether they contain ingredients that are high-GMO-risk ingredients such as corn or soy.

Holtz said her company’s Non-GMO Project Verified label cost $5,000, which excludes the fees paid to the reviewing company for its audit and testing. Holtz spent $2,050 for the initial review and an additional $4,390 for continued monitoring. She noted that the number will go up as Liz Lovely adds new products to its line of cookies.

Maniscalco, on the other hand, has tackled the compliance process for his hot sauces on his own.

“I keep all my records. It was a lot of back and forth with the non-GMO guys,” Maniscalco said. “It was not easy to do.”

He noted that his products have a limited number of ingredients, which makes certification easier. For example, Benito’s Local Tang sauce contains six ingredients, if you don’t distinguish between the different kinds of chile peppers.

Maniscalco said that he spends about $3,000 per year on certifications. Although most of his certifications are with Non-GMO Project, the figure includes two certification with USDA Organic.

Harrison, of the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association, said it is hard to predict how GMO-free labeling would impact the cost of food.

“There is the cost of the certification, and if you have a high volume of product the cost will be more,” he said referring to the number of different products that one company makes.

Maddie Monty, office manager and policy adviser for Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) of Vermont, said that she doesn’t feel particularly concerned that GMO-free labeling is going to have an impact the price of foods.

“By embracing the labeling,” she said, “companies might get access to a new market that could help them be more profitable.”

So far, Holtz said that her business has absorbed the cost of the Non-GMO Project verification, but the certification comes at a creative cost. Holtz said before testing any recipes with new ingredients, she will run the ingredients by her compliance expert.

“I don’t want to come up with something and love it,” Holtz said, only to find out it won’t work. “It kind of kills the creative process.”

Labeling options abound

Before getting Non-GMO Project Verified, Liz Lovely cookies bore the less-stringent label of Vermont Certified Organic, issued by Vermont Organic Farmers.

Holtz said that the state’s organic certification is good for small businesses that sell their products locally.

Another option is for local producers to focus on complying with the state’s law.

City Market staff, for example, have no plans to pursue voluntary non-GMO labeling, according Weinhagen.

However, the coop will evaluate food production processes in advance of Vermont’s GMO labeling law going into effect, Weinhagen said. Although the products at the coop’s hot bar are exempt for the state law, the items in their prepared foods cooler would fall under regulation.

Holtz said that non-GMO labeling could most benefit businesses hoping to sell to larger markets.

“If you’re looking to expand, it’s going to be forced on you,” Holtz said. She referred to the 2018 GMO labeling deadline set by Whole Foods, which carries her cookies.

Harrison, the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association president, summed it up like this:

“If you’re a specialty food producer and Whole Foods is an important customer to you, you’re going to respond to that.”

Whole Foods spokeswoman Heather McCready stated in an email that the company will accept verifications by third-party auditors including Non-GMO Project and USDA Organic.

Holtz said that she didn’t pursue USDA Organic certification, which automatically means that a product does not contain GMOs, because it’s hard to consistently source organic gluten-free ingredients. She added that purchasing organic products are also cost prohibitive on top of the extra cost of gluten free ingredients.

“I’m afraid we’d be priced out,” Holtz said. The suggested retail price of Liz Lovely’s two-pack cookies is $3.99.

Papineau, of the Non-GMO Project, said that many companies are using their label as a transition to USDA Organic.

“Some products contain both labels,” she said. “I’m fine with that. I think it’s great.”

Hot sauce maker Maniscalco has certified with both voluntary GMO-free programs. He was able to get the USDA Organic certification for products with few ingredients. His Maple Chipotle BBQ rub, for example, contains only Vermont maple sugar and chipotle peppers, which are easy to source organic.

Maniscalco’s ultimate goal is to get USDA Organic certification for all Benito’s products, but he said that’s a difficult proposition for a small business. This would be possible only if he purchased larger ingredient orders and found more refrigeration space to store fresh produce.

Monty, of NOFA Vermont, said that she wants consumers to know that while organic is GMO-free, they are not entirely the same. Organic also means no synthetic fertilizers or prohibited pesticides, among other things.

Still, Monty is happy about the proliferation of food labeling.

“Our biggest concern overall is to support consumers having as much information as they can about their food.”


Burlington Free Press: Greenfield urges mandatory GMO labeling

By CHRISTOPHER DOERING and NICOLE GAUDIANO
May 20, 2015
Full Article

A co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. returned to the U.S. Capitol Wednesday to protest the reintroduction of legislation that would block states from requiring labels on foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Jerry Greenfield, who in 1978 started the Vermont ice cream company known for its Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey flavors, said the bill would undermine Vermont law.

Last year, Vermont became the first state to require mandatory labeling of foods containing ingredients made from GMOs, starting in 2016. But the law has been challenged in court by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other groups.

“We should be screaming it from the rooftops what our ingredients are, and the idea that we don’t want to tell people is insane,” Greenfield said during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol.

The congressional bill, introduced in March by Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., would allow companies to voluntarily use a government-backed label to tout their foods as GMO-free if they’ve gone through a certification process overseen by the Agriculture Department. The process would be similar to the popular “USDA organic” labeling used now.

The new label would be seen as a marketing tool that companies could use to promote their goods. The legislation also would ban states from adopting individual state labeling laws, and would override any state laws now in place.

The legislation also would require the Food and Drug Administration to review the safety of products before they enter the marketplace, putting into law a process that is currently voluntary but widely used by food companies.

The agency would require labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients if those ingredients are found to be unsafe or materially different from those produced without biotech ingredients.

Greenfield visited Washington last year to protest Pompeo’s bill. That version did not include the certification option by the USDA.

Greenfield joined Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., on Wednesday to rally support for the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, which would require the FDA to clearly label genetically engineered foods.

Welch said Pompeo’s bill would “take away the right of people to know” and expressed confidence it can be defeated.

“It’s just too much for a legislator to actually pull the lever and say, ‘We’re going to deny the citizens I represent the opportunity to make a choice,'” he said.

As much as 80 percent of packaged foods contain genetically modified ingredients, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The group represents more than 300 food and beverage companies, including Kellogg and H.J. Heinz.

The labeling argument has pitted consumer groups against major food and agribusiness companies. Both sides agree on the need to label genetically engineered foods but have failed to agree on how, or on whether it should be mandatory or voluntary.

The food industry has said mandatory labeling implies GMOs are somehow unsafe. They also argue that a state-by-state labeling framework is confusing and leads to higher costs that get passed on to shoppers.

Supporters of mandatory labeling say most Americans want to know if their food contains GMOs.


Rutland Herald: Protesters rally against GMO producer

By Andy Clark
May 24, 2015
Full Article

Monsanto, an agrochemical company known for its genetically modified organisms, was the target of a “peaceful protest” Saturday in Rutland.

The protest, one of more than 400 March Against Monsanto events held worldwide Saturday to protest the company’s anti-disclosure stand on GMOs in food, included several dozen participants and many curious people from the nearby Vermont Farmers Market.

The protest was intended to draw attention to a controversial fight over GMOs, food quality and market dominance by large food producers.

Demonstrators carried signs critical of Monsanto, and urged passing motorists in downtown Rutland to join the protest.

They also gathered signatures for a petition to present to Vermont’s congressional delegation in opposition to a bill recently reintroduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., that would override state GMO-labeling laws and allow companies to label GMO foods as “natural” or “all natural.”

The organizer of the Rutland assembly, Nahomi Franquiz of Massachusetts, said she had family ties in Rutland. Also supporting the protest was Take Back Our Food Vermont.

“We want to know what’s in our food,” Franquiz said. “We have a right to know.”

The protest was strategically placed: downtown Rutland has one of the largest farmers markets in the state and the “locavore” movement has taken a firm hold in Vermont.

The state Agency of Agriculture says Vermont “leads the nation in direct-to-consumer farm sales, with more farmers markets, community supported agriculture operations, and farm stands per capita than any other state in the nation.”

And Attorney General Bill Sorrell is fighting a federal lawsuit brought by several food production and retail associations to overturn a 2014 Vermont law that requires food sold in the state to identify GMOs used in the production of food products.

The Rutland protest included Alan Decato, a local goat farmer whose cheeses are sold at the Vermont Farmers Market and in the Boston area.

“I agree that we need to move against Monsanto,” Decato said. “But my reasons are a little different. I don’t think that GMOs in and of themselves are a threat. It’s the combination of GMOs and glyphosates that are the problem.”

He said glyphosates are patented dessicants, herbicides and anti-bacterial agents. “I’m a veteran from the time of the Vietnam War and I knew other vets who came back with numerous physical problems due to exposure to another dessicant, Agent Orange.”

Decato added, “I’ve always been interested in biological sciences and I hate seeing injustices inflicted on people. Monsanto is trying to take advantage of people’s lack of knowledge, which is so much worse when that knowledge is hidden from them.”

According to organizers of the campaign and their website, “Research studies have shown that Monsanto’s genetically modified foods can lead to serious health conditions such as the development of cancer tumors, infertility and birth defects.”

Campaign organizers also charged that political favoritism and corporate subsidies have enabled Monsanto to establish a monopoly over the world’s food supply, using exclusive patent rights over seeds and genetic makeup.

They also said GMO seeds are harmful to the environment, contributing to the collapse of bee colonies worldwide, for example.


Independent Science News: Monsanto’s Worst Dream May be Coming True

by Jonathan Latham, PhD
May 18, 2015
Full Article

The decision of the Chipotle restaurant chain to make its product lines GMO-free is not most people’s idea of a world-historic event. Especially since Chipotle, by US standards, is not a huge operation. A clear sign that the move is significant, however, is that Chipotle’s decision was met with a tidal-wave of establishment media abuse. Chipotle has been called irresponsible, anti-science, irrational, and much more by the Washington Post, Time Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times, and many others. A business deciding to give consumers what they want was surely never so contentious.

The media lynching of Chipotle has an explanation that is important to the future of GMOs. The cause of it is that there has long been an incipient crack in the solid public front that the food industry has presented on the GMO issue. The crack originates from the fact that while agribusiness sees GMOs as central to their business future, the brand-oriented and customer-sensitive ends of the food supply chain do not.

The brands who sell to the public, such as Nestle, Coca-Cola, Kraft, etc., are therefore much less committed to GMOs. They have gone along with their use, probably because they wish to maintain good relations with agribusiness, who are their allies and their suppliers. Possibly also they see a potential for novel products in a GMO future.

However, over the last five years, as the reputation of GMOs has come under increasing pressure in the US, the cost to food brands of ignoring the growing consumer demand for GMO-free products has increased. They might not say so in public, but the sellers of top brands have little incentive to take the flack for selling GMOs.

From this perspective, the significance of the Chipotle move becomes clear. If Chipotle can gain market share and prestige, or charge higher prices, from selling non-GMO products and give (especially young) consumers what they want, it puts traditional vendors of fast and processed food products in an invidious position. Kraft and MacDonalds, and their traditional rivals can hardly be left on the sidelines selling outmoded products to a shrinking market. They will not last long.

MacDonald’s already appears to be in trouble, and it too sees the solution as moving to more up-market and healthier products. For these much bigger players, a race to match Chipotle and get GMOs out of their product lines, is a strong possibility. That may not be so easy, in the short term, but for agribusiness titans who have backed GMOs, like Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer and Syngenta; a race to be GMO-free is the ultimate nightmare scenario.

Until Chipotle’s announcement, such considerations were all behind the scenes. But all of a sudden this split has spilled out into the food media. On May 8th, Hain Celestial told The Food Navigator that:

“We sell organic products…gluten-free products and…natural products. [But] where the big, big demand is, is GMO-free.”

Why the pressure to remove GMOs will grow
The other factor in all this turmoil is that the GMO technology wheel has not stopped turning. New GMO products are coming on stream that will likely make crop biotechnology even less popular than it is now. This will further ramp up the pressure on brands and stores to go GMO-free. There are several contributory factors.

The first issue follows from the recent US approvals of GMO crops resistant to the herbicides 2,4-D and Dicamba. These traits are billed as replacements for Roundup-resistant traits whose effectiveness has declined due to the spread of weeds resistant to Roundup (Glyphosate).

The causes of the problem, however, lie in the technology itself. The introduction of Roundup-resistant traits in corn and soybeans led to increasing Roundup use by farmers (Benbrook 2012). Increasing Roundup use led to weed resistance, which led to further Roundup use, as farmers increased applications and dosages. This translated into escalated ecological damage and increasing residue levels in food. Roundup is now found in GMO soybeans intended for food use at levels that even Monsanto used to call “extreme” (Bøhn et al. 2014).

The two new herbicide-resistance traits are set to recapitulate this same story of increasing agrochemical use. But they will also amplify it significantly,

The specifics are worth considering. First, the spraying of 2,4-D and Dicamba on the newer herbicide-resistant crops will not eliminate the need for Roundup, whose use will not decline (see Figure).

Predicted herbicide use to 2025 (Mortensen et al 2012)

That is because, unlike Roundup, neither 2,4-D nor Dicamba are broad-spectrum herbicides. They will have to be sprayed together with Roundup, or with each other (or all of them together) to kill all weeds. This vital fact has not been widely appreciated.

Confirmation comes from the companies themselves. Monsanto is stacking (i.e. combining) Dicamba resistance with Roundup resistance in its Xtend crops and Dow is stacking 2,4-D resistance with Roundup resistance in its Enlist range. (Notably, resistance to other herbicides, such as glufosinate, are being stacked in all these GMO crops too.)

The second issue is that the combined spraying of 2,4-D and Dicamba and Roundup, will only temporarily ease the weed resistance issues faced by farmers. In the medium and longer terms, they will compound the problems. That is because new herbicide-resistant weeds will surely evolve. In fact, Dicamba-resistant and 2,4-D-resistant weeds already exist. Their spread, and the evolution of new ones, can be guaranteed (Mortensen et al 2012). This will bring greater profits for herbicide manufacturers, but it will also bring greater PR problems for GMOs and the food industry. GMO soybeans and corn will likely soon have “extreme levels” of at least three different herbicides, all of them with dubious safety records (Schinasi and Leon 2014).

The first time round, Monsanto and Syngenta’s PR snow-jobs successfully obscured this, not just from the general public, but even within agronomy. But it is unlikely they will be able to do so a second time. 2,4-D and Dicamba-resistant GMOs are thus a PR disaster waiting to happen.

A pipeline full of problems: risk and perception
The longer term problem for GMOs is that, despite extravagant claims, their product pipeline is not bulging with promising ideas. Mostly, it is more of the same: herbicide resistance and insect resistance.

The most revolutionary and innovative part of that pipeline is a technology and not a trait. Many products in the GMO pipeline are made using RNA interference technologies that rely on double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs). dsRNA is a technology with two problems. One is that products made with it (such as the “Arctic” Apple, the “Innate” Potato, and Monsanto’s “Vistive Gold” Soybeans) are unproven in the field. Like its vanguard, a Brazilian virus-resistant bean, they may never work under actual farming conditions.

But if they do work, there is a clear problem with their safety which is explained in detail here (pdf).

In outline, the problem is this: the long dsRNA molecules needed for RNA interference were rejected long ago as being too hazardous for routine medical use (Anonymous, 1969). The scientific literature even calls them “toxins”, as in this paper title from 1969:

Absher M., and Stinebring W. (1969) Toxic properties of a synthetic double-stranded RNA. Nature 223: 715-717. (not online)

As further evidence of this, long dsRNAs are now used in medicine to cause autoimmune disorders in mice, in order to study these disorders (Okada et al 2005).

The Absher and Stinebring paper comes from a body of research built up many years ago, but its essential findings have been confirmed and extended by more modern research. We now know why dsRNAs cause harm. They trigger destructive anti-viral defence pathways in mammals and other vertebrates and there is a field of specialist research devoted to showing precisely how this damages individual cells, whole tissues, and results in auto-immune disease in mice (Karpala et al. 2005).

The conclusion therefore, is that dsRNAs that are apparently indistinguishable from those produced in, for example, the Arctic apple and Monsanto’s Vistive Gold Soybean, have strong negative effects on vertebrate animals (but not plants). These vertebrate effects are found even at low doses. Consumers are vertebrate animals. They may not appreciate the thought that their healthy fats and forever apples also contain proven toxins. And on a business front, consumer brands will not relish defending dsRNA technology once they understand the reality. They may not wish to find themselves defending the indefensible.

The bottom line is this. Either dsRNAs will sicken or kill people, or, they will give opponents of biotechnology plenty of ammunition. The scientific evidence, as it currently stands, suggests they will do both. dsRNAs, therefore, are a potentially huge liability.

The last pipeline problem stems from the first two. The agbiotech industry has long held out the prospect of “consumer benefits” from GMOs. Consumer benefits (in the case of food) are most likely to be health benefits (improved nutrition, altered fat composition, etc.). The problem is that the demographic of health-conscious consumers no doubt overlaps significantly with the demographic of those most wary of GMOs. Show a consumer a “healthy GMO” and they are likely to show you an oxymoron. The likely health market in the US for customers willing to pay more for a GMO has probably evaporated in the last few years as GMOs have become a hot public issue.

The end-game for GMOs?

The traditional chemical industry approach to such a problem is a familiar repertoire of intimidation and public relations. Fifty years ago, the chemical industry outwitted and outmanoeuvered environmentalists after the death of Rachel Carson (see the books Toxic Sludge is Good for You and Trust Us We’re Experts). But that was before email, open access scientific publication, and the internet. Monsanto and its allies have steadily lost ground in a world of peer-to-peer communication. GMOs have become a liability, despite their best efforts.

The historic situation is this: in any country, public acceptance of GMOs has always been based on lack of awareness of their existence. Once that ignorance evaporates and the scientific and social realities start to be discussed, ignorance cannot be reinstated. From then on the situation moves into a different, and much more difficult phase for the defenders of GMOs.

Nevertheless, in the US, those defenders have not yet given up. Anyone who keeps up with GMOs in the media knows that the public is being subjected to an unrelenting and concerted global blitzkrieg.

Pro-GMO advocates and paid-for journalists, presumably financed by the life-science industry, sometimes fronted by non-profits such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are being given acres of prominent space to make their case. Liberal media outlets such as the New York Times, the National Geographic, The New Yorker, Grist magazine, the Observer newspaper, and any others who will have them (which is most) have been deployed to spread its memes. Cornell University has meanwhile received a $5.6 million grant by the Gates Foundation to “depolarize” negative GMO publicity.

But so far there is little sign that the growth of anti-GMO sentiment in Monsanto’s home (US) market can be halted. The decision by Chipotle is certainly not an indication of faith that it can.

For Monsanto and GMOs the situation suddenly looks ominous. Chipotle may well represent the beginnings of a market swing of historic proportions. GMOs may be relegated to cattle-feed status, or even oblivion, in the USA. And if GMOs fail in the US, they are likely to fail elsewhere.

GMO roll-outs in other countries have relied on three things: the deep pockets of agribusinesses based in the United States, their political connections, and the notion that GMOs represent “progress”. If those three disappear in the United States, the power to force open foreign markets will disappear too. The GMO era might suddenly be over.

Endnote: The report by Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson on RNA interference and dsRNAs in GMO crops is downloadable from here. Accompanying Tables are here.


Food-Navigator USA: GMA et al file appeal vs Vermont GMO ruling, but they are running out of time, say attorneys

By Elaine Watson+
07-May-2015
Full Article

As widely predicted, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is appealing a federal court ruling denying its bid to halt implementation of Vermont’s GMO labeling law (Act 120) until a lawsuit over the Act is resolved.


Food Safety News: Judge: Vermont’s GMO-Labeling Law and Industry Lawsuit Can Both Proceed

U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss decided Monday to let Vermont go ahead with its plans to become the first state to require labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients on July 1, 2016, and to let the Grocery Manufacturers of America-led litigation to stop it from happening proceed.

Both sides were left going through the trial judge’s 84-page decision to see where she agrees and disagrees with both sides. Reiss, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2009 by President Barack Obama, has definitely left both sides with plenty to chew on.

Although the state wanted the lawsuit dismissed, Attorney General William Sorrell told local media there is much in the judge’s decision that goes the state’s way for the “heart and soul” of the labeling law. But the Vermont AG acknowledged it may be a reach for the state in other areas, including its desire to ban food companies using genetically modified ingredients from using the word “natural.”

Like Sorrell, the grocery industry is going through the decision looking for where its case was helped or hurt.

“While we are pleased that the District Court found us likely to succeed on several of our claims, we are nevertheless  disappointed by the court’s ultimate decision to deny our Motion for Preliminary Injunction to block the implementation of the Vermont GMO labeling law — Act 120 — on grounds that the manufacturers had not yet shown a sufficient degree of harm. We are reviewing this decision and considering our legal options,” GMA said in a post-decision statement.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) applauded the court’s decision, suggesting that it has positive implications for other states looking to pass GMO-labeling legislation.

“This landmark ruling not only paves the way for Vermont’s GMO labeling law to take effect on schedule, July 1, 2016, but more importantly it signals that the courts agree that states have a constitutional right to pass GMO labeling laws,” said Ronnie Cummins, OCA’s international director.

“This ruling also bodes well for GMO labeling bills that are moving through other state legislatures, including Maine, where a public hearing on Maine’s LD 991 is scheduled for April 30,” Cummins added.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed Act 120 into a law a year ago, and rules to implement it next year were released earlier this month.


Seven Days: Court Will Not Issue Injunction to Block GMO Law


Apr 27, 2015

Full Article

Vermont won a partial victory Monday in defending a new law that would require labeling of genetically modified foods.

U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss denied the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s motion for a preliminary injunction that would have blocked the law’s enforcement. It is slated to go into effect in July 2016.

Her ruling also dismissed parts of the case challenging the law, but allows other portions to proceed — setting it on course for a trial.

“Today was a big step in moving this case forward,” said Attorney General Bill Sorrell. “There’s much to be happy about for those who think our foods containing genetic engineering should be labeled.”

Key to the state’s case, Sorrell said, was Reiss’ finding that food labeling is within the state’s interests. “The safety of food products, the protection of the environment, and the accommodation of religious beliefs and practices are all quintessential governmental interests,” she wrote, as is the intention to “promote informed consumer decision-making.”

Roger Lowe, executive vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association issued a statement. “While we are pleased that the District Court found us likely to succeed on several of our claims, we are nevertheless disappointed by the court’s ultimate decision to deny our motion for preliminary injunction … on grounds that the manufacturers had not yet shown a sufficient degree of harm,” he said. “We are reviewing this decision and considering our legal options.” Lowe warned the law would “set the nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that will be costly and confusing for consumers.”

Legislators passed the food-labeling law last year, setting the stage for Vermont to become the first state to require foods made with genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and other food giants quickly filed suit in federal court.

Jared Carter, who filed a brief supporting the state through Vermont Law School’s Community Law Center, called the decision “overall very positive. Our biggest fear was she would grant the preliminary injunction.”

Reiss did not take the state’s side on all issues. The law seeks to prohibit the use of the word “natural” on products that contain genetically modified ingredients, but, Reiss said, the state never defined natural. Her ruling says, “The state thus faces an uphill battle in arguing that a GE manufacturer’s use of ‘natural’ terminology is actually or inherently misleading because the alleged deception cannot be measured against a statutory, or even a regulatory, definition of the restricted terms.”


VT Digger: Attorney General adopts GMO labeling rules for Vermont food retailers

John Herrick
Apr. 21 2015
Full Article

The Vermont Attorney General’s Office adopted new regulations last week for labeling food products containing genetically engineered ingredients sold in Vermont after July 1, 2016.

The regulations require manufacturers to place a label anywhere on the package where it can be “easily found” with guidelines on font size and color. Vermont retailers will have to label unpackaged products, including genetically engineered raw agricultural products such as sweet corn and processed foods such as potato salad.

“We are pleased at the amount of public input we received during the rulemaking process – from industry and consumers – and are glad that, with the formal adoption of this rule, we are giving ample time for food manufacturers and retailers to prepare for the law to take effect in just over fourteen months,” said Attorney General Bill Sorrell in a statement.

The Attorney General filed the rule with the Secretary of State’s Office on April 17. Manufacturers will not be liable for compliance until Jan. 1, 2017.

As much as 80 percent of the processed food sold in the United States is a product of modern genetic engineering. Typical genetically engineered ingredients include soy, corn, canola oil and cottonseed oil, which are often found in processed foods.

Some retailers say Vermont’s GMO labeling requirement will impact a wider array of foods than originally anticipated.

“It’s a lot more than just Campbell’s,” said Jim Harrison, president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association.

Campbell Soup Co. is a member of the trade group suing Vermont over the GMO labeling law. The national Grocery Manufacturers Association, and other trade groups, are suing the state over its GMO labeling law, arguing it is unconstitutional. A federal district court judge heard oral arguments in January and a date for a decision has not been scheduled.

Foods that are prepared and intended for immediate consumption, or a taxable meal, are exempt from the labeling requirements.

Internet food sales are also exempt from the labeling requirement under Act 120, the Attorney General determined.

That means online retailers who sell chocolates and specialty foods, for example, are not affected by the law. Harrison said this creates a competitive disadvantage for brick-and-mortar retailers. Next year, he said the association may seek to change the law to include online sales.

Wendy Morgan, chief of the Attorney General Office’s public protection division, said some foods are exempt. Pastries sold at bakeries, for example, do not require a label. These products may fall under the exempt category of “intended for immediate consumption.” Dairy products derived from animals fed genetically engineered food are also exempt.

Andrea Stander, director of Rural Vermont, a supporter of the labeling law, said the regulated community will have time to adjust, and may decide to remove genetically engineered ingredients from product lines.

“For someone who doesn’t want to put that label on their products there are many, many avenues to go and many opportunities to find non-GMO ingredients,” Stander said.

On July 1, she does not expect the grocery stores to look any different. She said consumer demand for non-GMO products is growing, and some manufacturers are responding.

“I think what we are going to see is a lot like what we’ve seen already; we’ve seen more and more products sprouting non-GMO labels on them,” Stander said.