Tag Archives: genetically modified

Rules on GMO crops in Hawaii before US appeals court

The fight over regulating genetically engineered crops in three Hawaii counties was back in a federal courtroom.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Honolulu last week on ordinances that seek to regulate or outlaw genetically engineered crops in Hawaii, Kauai and Maui counties.

Agrichemical companies and trade associations sued each county and federal court rulings sided with the businesses. The counties and interested environmental groups want the 9th Circuit to overturn the decisions.

Lawyers representing the counties argued that state laws do not specifically address genetically engineered crops relevant to the proposed regulations. The counties, which have policing powers to protect their residents, assert that they have the right and obligation to regulate the industry.

They also argued that the Hawaii Supreme Court should have taken up the issue as there is no written opinion specifically on genetically engineered crops in the state.

“This matter should have been turned over via certified question to the Hawaii Supreme Court because it’s an important issue for the entire state of Hawaii,” said David Minkin, representing the county of Kauai at the hearing.

The state Department of Agriculture regulates harmful plants in Hawaii, however, and attorneys representing the agrichemical companies said the state could and would specifically regulate genetically engineered plants if they felt it was warranted. The department has not said genetically engineered crops are harmful.

“The issue in this case isn’t whether pesticides or GE plants should be regulated or what those regulations should be. The only question here is who does the regulating. Under current Hawaii law, the answer is clear,” said Chris Landau, representing the companies in the Kauai and Big Island cases. “The state has comprehensive schemes in place.”

While the state gives counties some power to regulate issues on a local level, those ordinances cannot conflict with state laws.

In Kauai, the county wants to require the companies to report exactly where and what they are growing and seeks to ban the use of pesticides. The companies argue that the reporting process itself is a form of regulation, and the farms would risk both vandalism and espionage if that reporting were required.

Alika Atay, 62, who is a certified natural Hawaiian farmer who has lived on Maui his entire life, said his major concern is the heavy usage of pesticides.

“In a very short period of time these people have come to our island and they have poisoned our island, “Atay said.

“They are killing the Hawaiian people … if they kill us — or kill our land, kill our water — where do we have to go? This is our home. We must protect our home,”Atay said.

Companies that develop new types crops are drawn to Hawaii’s warm weather, which allows them to grow more generations of crops and accelerate their development of new varieties.

Monsanto and Dow Chemical have research farms in Maui County.

U.S. District Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway ruled last June that federal and state law pre-empts that county’s ban on cultivating genetically engineered crops, making it invalid. She stressed then that her order addressed only the question of county authority.

Two years ago, Kauai and Hawaii counties adopted measures regulating GMO crops and pesticides. U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren struck them down, saying state law superseded them.

89 percent of voters back GMO labeling

By an overwhelming margin, U.S. voters say consumers should have the right to know if their food is genetically modified, with 89 percent in support of mandatory GMO labeling, according to a new national poll.

Nearly the same number of consumers would like to see the labels in an easy to read format. 

The survey by The Mellman Group confirms previous polls that found heavy support for GMO labeling. The new poll shows labeling is supported by large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents, as well as people with favorable or unfavorable views of GMOs. Overall, 77 percent of respondents were strongly in favor of labeling. 

The poll, commissioned by a coalition of consumer and environmental groups, comes at a timely moment. In Congress, some lawmakers want to add a provision to the omnibus spending bill that would block states from requiring GMO labels for produce and processed food, as would the so-called DARK Act passed by the House last summer. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just approved the sale of genetically engineered salmon — which grows to maturity twice as fast as normal salmon and is cobbled together from the genes of different species — but the FDA will not require the salmon to be labeled. Other key findings of the poll include:

• About 88 percent would prefer a printed GMO label on the food package rather than use a smartphone app to scan a bar code.

• Just 17 percent say they have ever scanned a bar code to get information, and only 16 percent sat they have ever scanned a “QR” code.

• If bar codes were used, more than 80 percent say food companies should not be allowed to use the app to gather information about shoppers.

“Americans have yet again expressed an overwhelming desire to know what’s in their food,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “Shoppers want to see clear labels on food packaging that tell them if products are made with genetically engineered ingredients without having to use confusing codes or smartphone apps. We hope lawmakers hear consumers’ call for meaningful, mandatory national GMO labeling.”

“Everyone needs information to make informed food choices, not just those who have smart phones,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “There is no acceptable substitute for mandatory on-package labeling of GMO food.” 

“GMO labeling via QR code technology is unworkable, threatens privacy and is discriminatory since more than a third of Americans, many of which are low-income or live in rural areas with poor internet access, don’t own smartphones,” added Lisa Archer, food and technology program director at Friends of the Earth. “FDA’s approval of GMO salmon makes it all the more urgent that Congress require mandatory, universally accessible GMO labeling that any consumer can read on the package when they’re choosing what to feed their families.”

“QR code labeling discriminates against the poor, minorities, rural populations and the elderly. They are a completely unacceptable substitute for clear, concisely worded on package labeling,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety. “The right to know is a right for all, not just those who can afford it.” 

“This is yet another poll that shows broad and deep support for clear GMO labeling at a time when the issue is more important than ever,” said Scott Faber, executive director of Just Label It. “Food manufacturers and lawmakers should work together to give Americans a more transparent food system by crafting a non-judgmental, mandatory GMO labeling system that is easily found on the packaging.”

EPA to withdraw controversial weed killer that was approved for Wisconsin

The Environmental Protection Agency is taking steps to withdraw approval of a controversial new weed killer to be used on genetically modified corn and soybeans.

The EPA announced in a court filing that it had received new information from manufacturer Dow AgroSciences that a weed killer called Enlist Duo is probably more toxic than previously thought.

EPA had approved Enlist Duo for use in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and North Dakota, and was likely to OK it for other states.

In a filing with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, EPA said it “might not have issued the existing registration had it been aware” of the new information when it originally approved the product a year ago to be used with new strains of genetically modified corn and soybeans. EPA asked the court for the authority to reverse its decision while it reconsiders the herbicide in light of the new information, including whether wider buffer zones might be required to protect non-target plants.

The seeds are engineered to resist the herbicide, so farmers can spray the fields after the plants emerge and kill the weeds while leaving crops unharmed.

EPA’s move was welcomed by environmental and food safety groups that had sued to rescind approval of the potent new herbicide. But it is sure to create anxiety for the agriculture industry, since many weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide now commonly used on genetically modified corn and soybeans. Enlist includes a combination of glyphosate and an updated version of an older herbicide named 2,4-D.

“With this action, EPA confirms the toxic nature of this lethal cocktail of chemicals, and has stepped back from the brink,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Paul Achitoff. “Glyphosate is a probable carcinogen and is wiping out the monarch butterfly, 2,4-D also causes serious human health effects, and the combination also threatens endangered wildlife. This must not, and will not, be how we grow our food.”

Dow AgroSciences issued a statement calling for rapid resolution of the matter, citing “the pressing needs of U.S. farmers for access to Enlist Duo to counter the rapidly increasing spread of resistant weeds” and predicting that “these new evaluations will result in a prompt resolution of all outstanding issues.”

EPA’s decision means that Enlist Duo, which is currently on the market, won’t be in wide use for plantings next spring. EPA hasn’t said whether farmers already in possession of the herbicide will be able to use it, and that could be a topic for future litigation, said Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety.

Critics say they’re concerned the increased use of 2,4-D could endanger public health and more study on the chemical is needed. The USDA has predicted that the use of 2,4-D could increase by an estimated 200 percent to 600 percent by the year 2020.

EPA had earlier said when approving the new weed killer that agency officials had used “highly conservative and protective assumptions to evaluate human health and ecological risks.” The EPA said at the time that the herbicide met safety standards for the public, agricultural workers and endangered species.

Now, EPA says it has “has received new information from Dow AgroSciences — the registrant of Enlist Duo — that suggests two active ingredients could result in greater toxicity to non-target plants.”

2,4-D is now used on other crops, including wheat, and on pastures and home lawns. It is the world’s most popular herbicide and the third most popular in the United States, behind atrazine and glyphosate.

Groups opposed to expanded use of 2,4-D’s say they are concerned about its toxic effects and the potential for it to drift. Corn and soybeans are the nation’s largest crops, and the potential for expanded use is huge. Critics also expressed concern that weeds eventually would become resistant to the combination herbicide as they have to glyphosate, something EPA had planned to revisit.

EPA had earlier required a 30-foot buffer zone where the herbicide couldn’t be sprayed and ordered farmers to stop spraying when wind speeds exceeded 15 miles an hour.

House approves Dark Act against GMO labeling

The House of Representatives on July 23 passed the Dark Act, a bill that would preempt state and local authority to label and regulate genetically engineered foods.

The bill, backed largely by House Republicans, would codify a voluntary labeling system approach, block the FDA from implementing mandatory GE food labeling and allow food companies to continue to make “natural” claims for foods that contain GE ingredients.

The bill passed 275-150.

“Passage of this bill is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans. Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. “We remain confident that the Senate will preserve the rights of Americans and stand up for local democracy.”

As written, H.R. 1599 has sweeping preemptive effect, which could negate more than 130 existing statutes, regulations and ordinances in 43 states at the state and municipal level. The measure would remove local governments’ ability to enact measures to address the specific locality’s cultural, agricultural and ecological concerns — issues that have long been recognized as falling under local governments’ traditional powers.

More than 300 farmer, consumer and environmental groups opposed the bill in a letter to Congress. The nation’s second largest farming group, the National Farmers Union, also opposed the bill.

“This is yet again a reminder of how out of touch a majority of members in the House of Representatives are with the values and needs of the American public,” said Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs for the CFS. “Any representative that voted to keep their constituents in the dark will not only have to answer to the Food Movement, they will have to answer to a lot of angry constituents at town hall meetings over the August recess.”

A Senate version of this bill has not yet been introduced.

An opposing bill, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, would require that food manufacturers label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. This common sense bill would guarantee all Americans the right to know what is in their foods while respecting the need by companies for a uniform, federal standard.

More than 60 countries require GE food labeling and have not reported higher food costs as a result. More than 30 states introduced legislation to require GE labeling in 2013 and 2014, with laws recently passed in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine.

Federal judge rules Maui County ban on GMO crops invalid

A federal judge this week ruled that a Maui County ban on the cultivation of genetically engineered crops is pre-empted by federal and Hawaii law and invalid.

The county’s ordinance creating the prohibition exceeded the county’s authority, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway said in her order.

The county, which is a major center for research on genetically engineered crops, will abide by the decision, spokesman Rod Antone said.

Monsanto Co. and Dow Chemical Co. unit Agrigenetics Inc. both have research farms in the county.

The judge stressed that her order addresses only the legal question of county authority. “No portion of this ruling says anything about whether GE organisms are good or bad or about whether the court thinks the substance of the ordinance would be beneficial to the county,” she said.

Maui voters passed the ordinance when they approved a ballot initiative last November. The measure imposes a moratorium on the growing of genetically engineered crops until scientific studies are conducted on their safety and benefits. The ordinance would only allow the moratorium to be lifted after a vote by the Maui County Council.

Mark Sheehan, one of five citizens who sponsored the ballot initiative, said his group will appeal the order. He expressed disappointment that Mollway ruled on what he called procedural issues instead of addressing the substance of their argument.

The ordinance was specifically written to address issues not found in state statute, he said. Further, the law requires the county to protect the health of the environment and the public, said Sheehan, who is a member of the group Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the Aina Movement, or SHAKA.

“That was lost on the judge, so we will have to move along and have to find justice for the constitutional rights of the people of Maui at another level,” he said.

Mike Carroll, an attorney for SHAKA, said he believed Mollway’s opinion was overreaching.

Monsanto said in a statement after the ruling that it welcomes “the opportunity to continue to have conversations” with the community.

“We’re listening and we’ve heard the concerns some people have about GMOs and today’s farming practices.  Our commitment to ongoing dialogue with our neighbors doesn’t stop today,” said John Purcell, vice president and Monsanto’s lead for business and technology in Hawaii.

Hawaii’s year-round warm weather makes the islands a favorite research spot for companies that use genetic engineering to develop new types of corn and other crops. The weather allows researchers to grow more generations of crops and accelerate their development of new varieties.

Monsanto has two farms in Maui County, on Maui and Molokai islands. Agrigenetics, which does business as Mycogen Seeds, has a farm on Molokai.

There has been little scientific evidence to prove that foods grown from engineered seeds are less safe than their conventional counterparts. But fears persist in Hawaii and elsewhere. In the islands, these concerns are compounded by worries about the companies’ use of pesticides.

Kauai and Hawaii counties last year adopted their own measures regulating GMO crops and pesticides. U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren struck them down, saying they were superseded by state law. Supporters are appealing Kurren’s ruling on Kauai’s law. The Hawaii County Council in December voted to appeal Kurren’s order on their law. 

1st GMO apples approved for sale in U.S.

What would Johnny Appleseed do?

The USDA this month deregulated two genetically engineered apples, allowing Canada-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which developed the Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny Smith, to move forward with commercial production in the United States.

Orchard growers in the United States must now decide whether they want to plant trees that will produce apples engineered to resist browning and bruising. And consumers must decide whether “GMO” tarnishes the appeal of the golden delicious.

Already, a broad coalition of food safety groups, independent farmers, politicians, consumer advocates and environmentalists are opposing the USDA decision, maintaining that the government doesn’t know enough about the impact of an Arctic apple a day on human health.

“There is no place in the U.S. or global market for genetically engineered apples,” said Lisa Archer, food and technology program director of Friends of the Earth. “Farmers don’t want to grow it, food companies don’t want to sell it and consumers don’t want to eat it.”

The Arctic apples were the focus of review by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Healthy Inspection Service, which said in February that the fruits are unlikely to pose risk to crops or other plants and not likely to have a significant impact on the human environment.

Okanagan president and founder Neal Carter called the decision “the biggest milestone yet for us.”

Carter, noting that apple trees take several years to produce significant quantities of fruit, said the first Arctic apples will be available in test markets in late 2016.

To create the apples, Okanagan employed gene silencing and essentially shut off the enzyme that initiates the browning process when an apple gets “injured” — bruised, cut or bitten.

On a FAQ page on its website, Okanagan says, “No frankenfood here, folks — just apples.”

Carter said, “All we’ve done is reduce the expression of a single enzyme. There are no novel proteins in Arctic fruit and their nutrition and composition is equivalent to their conventional counterparts.”

But he hasn’t convinced Archer to take a bite. “We will keep working to ensure that the market — from grocery retailers to baby food companies — continues to listen to the majority of consumers who don’t want to eat this and other new, genetically engineered foods that are inadequately studied or unlabeled.”

Friends of the Earth said RNA interference (RNAi), the technique used to engineer the Arctic apples, is experimental and could have unintended impacts on people and the environment.

Other concerns from growing associations and horticulture councils: non-browning apples might look fresh but in fact be decaying, gene silencing in apples may be imprecise, GMO crops may contaminate conventional and organic crops and that natural browning enzyme may help fight disease and pests.

“We are concerned that USDA’s safety evaluation of this apple was inadequate, particularly with regard to the health and environmental implications of this particular RNAi technology,” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at the Consumers Union.

Oregon test: soy engineered for heavy pesticide exposure found in infant formula

The Center for Food Safety says genetic testing confirmed the presence of soy genetically engineered by Monsanto for heavy pesticide exposure in infant formula that is being sold in Portland, Oregon. The organization announced the test results on Food Day 2014 and in advance of a vote in Oregon on whether to label genetically engineered foods.

CFS and Dr. Ray Seidler, the first EPA scientist to study genetically engineered crops and former professor at Oregon State University, worked together on carrying out the testing. With recent published studies confirming that genetically engineered soy has significantly higher levels of chemical herbicides than conventionally grown soy, the test findings raise concerns about increasing infant exposure to chemical herbicides.

The testing follows up on a recent nationwide study by Consumer Reports finding genetically engineered ingredients in more than 80 common food products.

“I think most moms purchasing infant formula have no idea they are feeding their baby a product that has been genetically engineered to survive exposure to high levels of chemical pesticides,” Aurora Paulsen with Center for Food Safety’s Portland office said in a statement. “It’s no surprise that Monsanto is the top donor opposing Measure 92 which would give Oregonians the ability to know what foods have been genetically engineered. The presence of these products in infant formula being sold in Oregon really highlights the need for basic labeling.”

Seidler said, “Everything we know from the recent medical literature suggests we should be doing everything possible to reduce infant exposure to chemicals.  Finding soy in infant formula that has been genetically engineered specifically to survive high levels of chemical pesticide spraying is a real concern and takes us in the wrong direction.”

Genetic tests were conducted on three brands of infant formula bought at the Fred Meyer in Portland. Two products that tested positive for genetically engineered soy included Similac Soy Isomil and Enfamil Prosobee Powder Soy Infant Formula. Both products tested positive for Monsanto’s genetically engineered soy that is engineered to tolerate spraying with the herbicide glyphosate, as well as, Liberty Link soy that has been genetically engineered by Bayer Crop Sciences to tolerate spraying with the herbicide glufosinate.

Unregulated genetically modified wheat popping up in Montana

Unregulated genetically modified wheat has popped up in a second location in the United States, this time in Montana, the Agriculture Department has said.

No genetically engineered wheat has been approved for U.S. farming, and the discovery of unapproved varieties can pose a potential threat to U.S. trade with countries that have concerns about genetically modified foods.

USDA said that the incident is on a smaller scale than a similar finding in Oregon last year that prompted several Asian countries to temporarily ban U.S. wheat imports.

The herbicide-resistant wheat was found on one to three acres in Montana, while the genetically engineered plants found in Oregon were spread over more than 100 acres. And the plants were found at a university research center in Huntley, Montana, where genetically modified wheat was legally tested by seed giant Monsanto 11 years ago. The plants in Oregon were found in a field that had never conducted such tests, prompting questions about how they got there.

The department said it is investigating the discovery of the Montana wheat, which is a different variety than the genetically modified wheat found in Oregon. USDA said the wheat would be safe to eat, but none of it entered the market.

In a final report also released Friday, USDA said it believes the genetically modified wheat in Oregon was an isolated incident and that there is no evidence of that wheat in commerce. The report says the government still doesn’t know how the modified seeds got into the fields.

The discovery of the genetically modified wheat in Oregon in 2013 prompted Japan and South Korea to temporarily suspend some wheat orders, and the European Union called for more rigorous testing of U.S. shipments.

Monsanto Co. suggested last year that some of the company’s detractors may have intentionally planted the seeds. Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, said in June 2013 that sabotage is the most likely scenario, partly because the modified wheat was not distributed evenly throughout the field and was found in patches.

“It’s fair to say there are folks who don’t like biotechnology and would use this to create problems,” he said then.

Bernadette Juarez, who oversees investigative and enforcement efforts for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the department wasn’t able to prove any such scenarios.

“Ultimately, we weren’t able to make a determination of how it happened,” she said.

In a statement Friday, a Monsanto spokeswoman did not repeat Fraley’s 2013 speculation about sabotage but said the report provides closure. Monsanto also said it is fully cooperating with the investigation into the Montana wheat.

Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Research Center, where the modified wheat was found, also said it has been cooperating with USDA’s investigation.

Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are already genetically modified to resist certain herbicides or to have other traits. But the country’s wheat crop is not, as some wheat farmers have shown reluctance to use genetically engineered seeds since their product is usually consumed directly by people. Much of the corn and soybean crop is used as feed for animals.

Some in the wheat industry have also been concerned that genetically modified wheat, if ever approved, would contaminate conventional wheat, causing problems with exports. Opponents of modified crops used the Oregon wheat as an example of that threat. “Genetic contamination is a serious threat to farmers across the country,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety.

Oregon seeks to be 1st state to map GMO fields

Before residents in southern Oregon overwhelmingly voted to ban genetically modified crops earlier this summer, farmers negotiated for months with a biotech company that grows engineered sugar beets near their fields.

Their goal was to set up a system to peacefully coexist, an online mapping database of fields to help growers minimize cross-pollination between engineered and non-engineered crops.

But the effort between farmers and Swiss company Syngenta failed, leading to the ban.

Last October, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber directed the state’s Department of Agriculture to undertake something far more ambitious than that failed mapping effort – map GMO field locations across the entire state and establish buffer zones and exclusion areas for GE crops.

The move was spurred by several instances of genetic contamination in the region that rendered non-engineered crops unsellable on the export market.

If the mapping goes ahead, Oregon would be the first state to map fields and mandate preventive measures for modified crops. Advocates say Oregon could become a model for the rest of the nation.

The failed mapping effort in southern Oregon illustrates the challenges in reaching a consensus on GMO mapping amid mutual mistrust, a dearth of regulations and intense consumer attention.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture committee has recommended informal neighbor farmer agreements and an insurance system to pay for damages resulting from GMO contamination. But organic farmers are pushing for more disclosure, formal prevention measures and a system to hold GE growers liable for cross-pollination.

In Oregon, where over 200 crops are cultivated on nearly 24,000 farms, most crops do not have genetically modified counterparts, as only a handful of GE crops such as corn, alfalfa and sugar beets are permitted in the U.S.

Cross-pollination can occur when two crops within the same species flower simultaneously in nearby fields and pollen is carried from one to another via wind, insects, machines or human activity. Genetic engineering is prohibited in U.S. organic crops and many countries restrict imports of engineered products.

“There’s this need, a perceived need and real need in some markets, that they need zero contamination. And that is very difficult to achieve,” said Carol Mallory-Smith, professor of weed science at Oregon State University.

Already, dozens of seed associations across the nation – organizations for farmers who grow crops for seed – do mapping, also called pinning, and set isolation distances among crops to limit cross-pollination.

Some biotech companies participate in such mapping. But the efforts are voluntary and spotty, with locations and dates of planting available only to fellow growers, not officials or the general public.

Monsanto and other biotech outfits that hold patents to GE seeds resist publicly disclosing GMO field locations for competitive reasons. They claim farmers already coexist throughout the U.S. and more monitoring isn’t needed.

They are backed by farmers who plant GMO crops and worry that mapping could lead to crop sabotage and an outright ban on all GMO cultivation, regardless of the likelihood of contamination.

“More mapping would be redundant; we’re already doing it internally, we all work together with other farmers,” said Robert Purdy, who grows GE sugar beets for seed in the Willamette Valley. “If mapping were made public, nothing could stop people from pulling out those sugar beet plants.”

The company that contracts with Purdy for the seeds is a member of the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association, which maps more than 1,200 fields as part of a pinning system in northwestern Oregon – meaning Purdy can coordinate what to grow and where with his neighbors.

But organic farmers and other advocates say a mandatory mapping and monitoring system that covers all regions of the state and the nation is badly needed to retain crop and seed purity. It could increase transparency, help pinpoint the cause and location of contamination, and determine liability if economic harm is done.

“Mapping would bring transparency to a system that’s extremely opaque. It would allow for causation and traceability,” said George Kimbrell, a senior attorney at the Portland-based Center for Food Safety.

In southern Oregon, where the seed association recently formed to map fields, without Syngenta’s input, member farmers said the biotech giant walked out on them at the last minute.

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