GMOs, nukes, fracking
I have just finished reading the columns by Roland Richmond and Mark Wilson (Union, Sept. 10) supporting GMO production. I am struck by their statements that rejecting the entrance of GMO crops in Humboldt amounts to an anti-science tribal mentality.
Really? Then it must be anti-science tribal mentality to reject the experimentation of super pathogens that have no cure. It must be anti-science tribal mentality to object to the construction of nuclear reactors after Fukashima that to this day continues to pollute the Pacific Ocean. It must be anti-science tribal mentality to object to the plastic deep within our cells because plastic doesn’t biodegrade it just breaks down until it is consumed by the tiniest of organisms and concentrates up the food chain to us. It must be anti-science tribal mentality to want to stop fracking, which pollutes ground water and has caused earthquakes and sinkholes. It must be anti science tribal mentality to simply want labeling for GMOs in our food. Labeling gives us a choice; some will choose to consume GMOs, some will not.
Personally, I think there is a big difference between gene splicing (to give food crops herbicide tolerance and drench them with herbicides, a new one whenever the last one stops working, or to cause them to glow under black-lights) and the manipulation of pollin to achieve stronger, tastier and healthier varieties. Some of the GMO traits have migrated to untargeted plant species and to other crops. Remember, the weeds growing around the test crops glowed too, and that Monsanto sued farmers whose crops were contaminated by their products. They have sued farmers who have collected seed from their own crops that have been contaminated by Monsanto’s. The control of seed by Monsanto is threatening to us all. When Richmond and Wilson say that all our food should be tested I wonder about their fear factor. It’s not the heritage tomatoes that I am worried about.
I respect differing opinions and welcome a discussion. It is necessary to a free society. The issue of GMO’s is not clear enough for Mr. Richmond, or anyone, to be telling me how to think or how to vote on Measure P.
I think I can work that out for myself.
Protect local farmers
Drs. Richmond and Wilson (Union, Sept. 10) sidestep the question of whether organic and non-toxic (“healthy”) ag can co-exist with GMO ag, by blurring the distinctions between the two (“all of our food has been genetically modified”). Misleading and deceptive redefinitions aside, decisions regarding Measure P in part depend upon whether GMO and organic farming can co-exist within any reasonable geographical or economic context in our county.
Studies, experience and common sense say no, and for a wide variety of reasons, including pollen drift contaminating non-GMO fields. (“An Impossible Coexistence: Transgenic and Organic Agriculture,” J. of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10806-008-9099-4.)
GMO corn, alfalfa and soon wheat are just three locally relevant crops all of which skyrocket poison use, with predictable resistance in weeds and insects. The GMO answer is to “stack” herbicide resistant traits into GMO crops, thereby magnifying all the risks associated with the attendant increased uses of the (GMO-manufacturers’) poisons. For example:
“Dow’s new GMO crops are engineered to withstand massive doses of Enlist Duo herbicide, concocted from a combination of 2,4-D (used to make Agent Orange) and glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. The USDA has admitted that approval of Dow’s new crops will cause the use of 2,4-D to skyrocket from 26 million pounds to 176 million pounds. Scientists predict worse.” (aphis.usda.gov/brs/aphisdocs/24d_deis.pdf, pg ix and rt.com/usa/156272-epa-dow-agent-orange-herbicide).
In 1861, the physicist John Tyndall predicted that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could elevate global temperatures. Society then had choices regarding fuels for the internal combustion engine, a novel and powerful invention first envisioned centuries earlier, and whether to base global transportation and electricity production on it and risk global warming, or follow a smarter path.
The deployment of all technologies, from engines to GMOs, is subject to political forces, and hopefully foresight and therefore to local control, reflecting what we care about locally.
Dr. Wilson wonders what we are protecting, or protecting from, with Measure P. The answer reflects what we care about: we are protecting our local farmers and our healthy, local food supply, which Measure P will make cheaper and more widely available.
We also care about our regional economy, so we will join other counties with thriving agriculture, with successful bans similar to Measure P-Trinity, Marin, Santa Cruz, and Mendocino-to enlarge an economic enterprise zone to meet the ever-increasing demand for healthy food.
And we care about our salmon. Measure P protects our watersheds, Bay (and ourselves) from GMO-associated herbicides, insecticides and alien proteins. In Iowa’s corn belt, scientists find Bt insecticide in nearby streams: “Our research adds to the growing body of evidence ... that the compounds associated with genetically-modified crops, such as insecticidal proteins, can enter nearby water bodies.” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pnas.org/content/107/41/17645). Bt also enters human bloodstreams (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21338670).
Measure P recognizes that modernized traditional farm science can provide for all our food needs, outperforming GMO in quality crop yields, water use, microclimate adaptations, farmer expense, environmental costs and time to develop innovative strains. GMO research that is confined to enclosed quarters, such as bio-medical and agriculture, including sudden oak death research, will not be prohibited by Measure P.
Drs. Wilson and Richmond have a lot of opinions about GMOs (and about those who question their use), but few of them strike me as relevant to our local decision about whether to allow GMOs to be grown in our county. Personally, I’ve made my choice: join me in voting for Measure P.
Ken Miller, MD
Vote yes on Measure P
Measure P has a lot of people asking: Is it possible that genetic engineering could have unintended consequences? One group of “experts” says, “Yes,” and those who stand to benefit from GMOs say, “No.” When there’s a profit motive to take a particular position, I tend to not trust the outcome.
And, there’s the logical argument:If we are wrong, either way, what are the consequences of the mistake?If we are wrong about banning GMO crops from our county, what are the consequences to our local farmers, to our environment, to our children?Minimal, it would seem. However, if we allow GMO crops and we’re wrong, then what? How do we put the genie back in the bottle?
Everywhere we look, it seems profit motives are driving decisions. If it makes someone money, it must be good.I deny this thinking.Sometimes, the right decision does not enhance our wallets. Sometimes the right decision is what is right in front of us.
Measure P will help a lot of our small farmers economically, but that’s not my main reason for supporting it. I support it because it will be good for the whole community in ways that go far beyond money.Healthy, local farming makes healthy, local food. Not Monsanto’s but nature’s best, proven through the ages to be good for us.
Where GMOs are concerned, the answer for Humboldt County seems obvious: Vote yes on Measure P.
George A. Wheeler
With regard to Kevin Hoover’s editorial in the Aug. 20 Mad River Union. When Humboldt County last addressed a GMO ordinance in 2004, Rollin Richmond stacked the panel with pro-GMO advocates Mark Wilson and Peggy Lemeau, the former Monsanto employee who is now the UC Extension expert on biotechnology.
There were no scientists of similar academic stature available at the time to provide the alternative viewpoint. At the last minute, Renata Brillinger was added to the panel in an effort to provide some balance. Renata is a knowledgeable activist but not a scientist. John Woolley may remember how this all occurred.
Ten-plus years later the failings of agricultural biotechnology have become apparent. Glyphosate resistant weeds and BT resistant insect pests have resulted in increased pesticide use and these materials are showing up in the food supply. And there are published, credentialed scientific voices and peer reviewed science addressing these problems.
Increased yields are a result of traditional plant breeding to which herbicide resistance is tacked on after the fact through recombinant DNA technology – genetic engineering.
It is not enough to extol the theoretical benefits of genetic engineering. It is an old story of overstated promises and unforeseen and unintended consequences. Personally I would like to hear Rollin Richmond, Mark Wilson or Peggy Lemeau on a panel or debate with Ray Seidler, Michael Hansen or Ignacio Chapela.
Camp Grant Ranch
Kevin Hoover made several unsubstantiated and misleading assertions in a recent opinion piece (HSU’s ‘Anti-GMO Speaker Series’ tells one side of the biotechnology controversy, August 20, 2014). Hoover states that “support for GMO crops in the scientific community is roughly at the same level as that for anthropogenic global warming.” The scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change is that it is occurring. What society does with that information is a separate issue. Similarly, science itself cannot support or oppose the use of GMO crops. What science can do is provide information about the potential risks and benefits of the use of such technologies. And, at the present time, it appears that we do not have a solid scientific consensus on these issues. For instance, a review which examined studies published from 2006-2010 on the topic of health risks of GMOs (Domingo and Bordonaba, 2011, Environment International 37:734-742) concluded that much further study is needed before a consensus can be reached. The authors also note that a high proportion of studies which found no effects of GMOs were directly connected to the biotechnology companies which own the patents on these GMO plants. As recently as 2009, scientists could not use GMOs for research without entering into a contract with the patent-holding company, and several dozen scientists sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency voicing concerns about access to GMOs for legitimate research and about the ability of such patent-holding companies to control the dissemination of experimental results as a consequence of the contractual arrangements. As a practicing scientist, I am very hesitant to accept at face value this body of literature that has been so heavily influenced by the patent holders as a truly comprehensive view of this topic. More independent research is needed before we can hope to reach an accurate scientific consensus.
Additionally, Hoover dismisses objections to GMOs as being “cultural and political in nature, rather than science-based.” The point that he misses is that the decision to use (or not use) GMO technology for commercial purposes is a political decision, not a scientific one. While available scientific evidence should be an important component, the decision itself hinges largely on the ethical, economic and societal implications. Science does not operate in a vacuum. Even if GMOs are proven in the future to be safe for human health or the environment, that would not automatically mean that we should be using them for commercial food production. Is it ethical for private corporations to patent life and own all offspring generations such that farmers cannot save their seeds? What is the economic cost to organic farmers whose crops are contaminated by their neighbor’s GMO pollen and whose product is then rejected by a buyer? (A recent report by the non-profit group Food & Water Watch found that approximately one-sixth of 268 surveyed organic farmers had experienced such a load rejection.) Should we have a political framework which encourages growing of GMO crops rather than the development and use of local strains that are specifically bred to survive in the region where they are grown? As a citizen, considering these broader issues has led me to question the use of GMOs and to support our local Measure P. As a scientist, I’m offended by the assertion that anyone who reaches similar conclusions is somehow “anti-science.”
Christine Cass, Ph.D.
Kevin Hoover responds: "Nowhere in the piece do I refer to anyone as 'anti-science'."