Musings about our farm, organic farming, regional foods and markets.

Plus, what's in the news about foods, systems and regulations around the world.

Friday, January 21, 2011

10 Reasons We Don’t Need GM Foods

As a grower of certified organic produce, it is vital to me to be assured a natural supply of seeds and no contamination of the land I farm. As a consumer of organic and natural meats, fish, dairy, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, it has become ever more important to me to know that these foods are not in any way genetically-modified. This is increasingly difficult when labelling of GM ingredients (e.g. in processed foods) is not authorized by our government.

10 Reasons We Don’t Need GM Foods

With the cost of food recently skyrocketing – hitting not just shoppers but the poor and hungry in the developing world – genetically modified (GM) foods are once again being promoted as the way to feed the world. But this is little short of a confidence trick. Far from needing more GM foods, there are urgent reasons why we need to ban them altogether.


1. GM foods won’t solve the food crisis

A 2008 World Bank report concluded that increased biofuel production is the major cause of the increase in food prices.[1] GM giant Monsanto has been at the heart of the lobbying for biofuels (crops grown for fuel rather than food) — while profiting enormously from the resulting food crisis and using it as a PR opportunity to promote GM foods!
“The climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GM industry.” — Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent of The Independent[2]
“The cynic in me thinks that they’re just using the current food crisis and the fuel crisis as a springboard to push GM crops back on to the public agenda. I understand why they’re doing it, but the danger is that if they’re making these claims about GM crops solving the problem of drought or feeding the world, that’s bullshit.” – Prof Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology at the University of Glamorgan in Wales[3]


2. GM crops do not increase yield potential

Despite the promises, GM has not increased the yield potential of any commercialised crops.[4] In fact, studies show that the most widely grown GM crop, GM soya, has suffered reduced yields.[5]
A report that analyzed nearly two decades worth of peer reviewed research on the yield of the primary GM food/feed crops, soybeans and corn (maize), reveals that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase US crop yields. The author, former US EPA and US FDA biotech specialist Dr Gurian-Sherman, concludes that when it comes to yield, “Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.”[6]
“Let’s be clear. As of this year [2008], there are no commercialized GM crops that inherently increase yield. Similarly, there are no GM crops on the market that were engineered to resist drought, reduce fertilizer pollution or save soil. Not one.” – Dr Doug Gurian-Sherman[7]


3. GM crops increase pesticide use

US government data shows that in the US, GM crops have produced an overall increase, not decrease, in pesticide use compared to conventional crops.[8]
“The promise was that you could use less chemicals and produce a greater yield. But let me tell you none of this is true.” – Bill Christison, President of the US National Family Farm Coalition[9]


4. There are better ways to feed the world

A major UN/World Bank-sponsored report compiled by 400 scientists and endorsed by 58 countries concluded that GM crops have little to offer global agriculture and the challenges of poverty, hunger, and climate change, because better alternatives are available. In particular, the report championed “agroecological” farming as the sustainable way forward for developing countries.[10]


5. Other farm technologies are more successful

Integrated Pest Management and other innovative low-input or organic methods of controlling pests and boosting yields have proven highly effective, particularly in the developing world.[11] Other plant breeding technologies, such as Marker Assisted Selection (non-GM genetic mapping), are widely expected to boost global agricultural productivity more effectively and safely than GM.[12] [13]
“The quiet revolution is happening in gene mapping, helping us understand crops better. That is up and running and could have a far greater impact on agriculture [than GM].” – Prof John Snape, head of the department of crop genetics, John Innes Centre[14]


6. GM foods have not been shown to be safe to eat

Genetic modification is a crude and imprecise way of incorporating foreign genetic material (e.g. from viruses, bacteria) into crops, with unpredictable consequences. The resulting GM foods have undergone little rigorous and no long-term safety testing, but animal feeding tests have shown worrying health effects.[15] Only one study has been published on the direct effects on humans of eating a GM food.[16] It found unexpected effects on gut bacteria, but was never followed up.
It is claimed that Americans have eaten GM foods for years with no ill effects. But these foods are unlabeled in the US and no one has monitored the consequences. With other novel foods like trans fats, it has taken decades to realize that they have caused millions of premature deaths.[17]
“We are confronted with the most powerful technology the world has ever known, and it is being rapidly deployed with almost no thought whatsoever to its consequences.” — Dr Suzanne Wuerthele, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toxicologist


7. Stealth GMOs in animal feed - without consumers’ consent

Meat, eggs and dairy products from animals raised on the millions of tons of GM feed imported into Europe do not have to be labelled. Some studies show that contrary to GM and food industry claims, animals raised on GM feed ARE different from those raised on non-GM feed.[18]  Other studies show that if GM crops are fed to animals, GM material can appear in the resulting products[19] and that the animals’ health can be affected.[20] So eating “stealth GMOs” may affect the health of consumers.


8. GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers

A 2009 report showed that GM seed prices in America have increased dramatically, compared to non-GM and organic seeds, cutting average farm incomes for US farmers growing GM crops. The report concluded, “At the present time there is a massive disconnect between the sometimes lofty rhetoric from those championing biotechnology as the proven path toward global food security and what is actually happening on farms in the US that have grown dependent on GM seeds and are now dealing with the consequences.”[21]


9. GM and non-GM cannot co-exist

GM contamination of conventional and organic food is increasing. An unapproved GM rice that was grown for only one year in field trials was found to have extensively contaminated the US rice supply and seed stocks.[22] In Canada, the organic oilseed canola industry has been destroyed by contamination from GM canola.[23] In Spain, a study found that GM maize “has caused a drastic reduction in organic cultivations of this grain and is making their coexistence practically impossible”.[24]
The time has come to choose between a GM-based, or a non-GM-based, world food supply.
“If some people are allowed to choose to grow, sell and consume GM foods, soon nobody will be able to choose food, or a biosphere, free of GM. It’s a one way choice, like the introduction of rabbits or cane toads to Australia; once it’s made, it can’t be reversed.” – Roger Levett, specialist in sustainable development[25]


10. We can’t trust GM companies

The big biotech firms pushing their GM foods have a terrible history of toxic contamination and public deception.[26] GM is attractive to them because it gives them patents that allow monopoly control over the world’s food supply. They have taken to harassing and intimidating farmers for the “crime” of saving patented seed or “stealing” patented genes — even if those genes got into the farmer’s fields through accidental contamination by wind or insects.[27]
“Farmers are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell.” – Tom Wiley, North Dakota farmer[28]



1. A Note on Rising Food Prices. Donald Mitchell, World Bank report, 2008.
2. Hope for Africa lies in political reforms. Daniel Howden, The Independent, 8 September 2008,
3. GM: it’s safe, but it’s not a saviour. Rob Lyons, Spiked Online, 7 July 2008,
4. The adoption of bioengineered crops. Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo and William D. McBride, US Department of Agriculture Report, May 2002,
5. Glyphosate-resistant soyabean cultivar yields compared with sister lines. Elmore, R.W. et al., Agronomy Journal, Vol. 93, No. 2, 2001, pp. 408–412
6. Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops. Doug Gurian-Sherman, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2009,
7. Genetic engineering — a crop of hyperbole. Doug Gurian-Sherman, The San Diego Union Tribune, 18 June 2008,
8. Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years. Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., The Organic Center, November 2009,
9. Family Farmers Warn of Dangers of Genetically Engineered Crops. Bill Christison, In Motion magazine, 29 July 1998,
10. International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development: Global Summary for Decision Makers (IAASTD). Beintema, N. et al., 2008,
11. International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development: Global Summary for Decision Makers (IAASTD). Beintema, N. et al., 2008,
12. Marker-assisted selection: an approach for precision plant breeding in the twenty-first century. Collard, B.C.Y. and D.J. Mackill, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, Vol. 363, 2008, pp. 557-572, 2008
13. Breeding for abiotic stresses for sustainable agriculture. Witcombe J.R. et al., Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 2008, Vol. 363, pp. 703-716
14. Gene mapping the friendly face of GM technology. Professor John Snape, Farmers Weekly, 1 March 2002, p. 54
15. Here is a small selection of such papers: Fine structural analysis of pancreatic acinar cell nuclei from mice fed on GM soybean. Malatesta, M. et al., Eur. J. Histochem., Vol. 47, 2003, pp. 385–388; Ultrastructural morphometrical and immunocytochemical analyses of hepatocyte nuclei from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. Malatesta, M. et al., Cell Struct Funct., Vol. 27, 2002, pp. 173-180; Ultrastructural analysis of testes from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. Vecchio L. et al., Eur. J. Histochem., Vol. 48, pp. 448-454, 2004; A long-term study on female mice fed on a genetically modified soybean: effects on liver ageing. Malatesta M. et al., Histochem Cell Biol., Vol. 130, 2008, pp. 967-977; Effects of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine. Ewen S.W. and A. Pusztai, The Lancet, Vol. 354, 1999, pp. 1353–1354; New Analysis of a Rat Feeding Study with a Genetically Modified Maize Reveals Signs of Hepatorenal Toxicity. Séralini, G.-E. et al., Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol., Vol. 52, 2007, pp. 596-602.
16. Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract. Netherwood T. et al., Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 22, 2004, pp. 204–209.
17. Trans Fats: The story behind the label. Paula Hartman Cohen, Harvard Public Health Review, 2006,
18. Report on animals exposed to GM ingredients in animal feed. Professor Jack A. Heinemann, PhD. Prepared for the Commerce Commission of New Zealand, 24 July 2009,
19. Detection of Transgenic and Endogenous Plant DNA in Digesta and Tissues of Sheep and Pigs Fed Roundup Ready Canola Meal. Sharma, R. et al., J. Agric. Food Chem., Vol. 54, No. 5, 2006, pp. 1699–1709; Assessing the transfer of genetically modified DNA from feed to animal tissues. Mazza, R. et al., Transgenic Res., Vol. 14, No. 5, 2005, pp. 775–784; Detection of genetically modified DNA sequences in milk from the Italian market. Agodi, A., et al., Int. J. Hyg. Environ. Health, Vol. 209, 2006, pp. 81–88
20. Report on animals exposed to GM ingredients in animal feed. Professor Jack A. Heinemann, PhD. Prepared for the Commerce Commission of New Zealand, 24 July 2009,
21. The Magnitude and Impacts of the Biotech and Organic Seed Price Premium. Dr Charles Benbrook, The Organic Center, December 2009,
22. Risky business: Economic and regulatory impacts from the unintended release of genetically engineered rice varieties into the rice merchandising system of the US. Blue, Dr E. Neal, report for Greenpeace, 2007,
23. Seeds of doubt: North American farmers’ experience of GM crops. Soil Association, 2002,
24. Coexistence of plants and coexistence of farmers: Is an individual choice possible? Binimelis, R., Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Vol. 21, No. 2, April 2008
25. Choice: Less can be more. Roger Levett, Food Ethics magazine, Vol. 3, No. 3, Autumn 2008, p. 11,
26. See, for example, Marie-Monique Robin’s documentary film, Le Monde Selon Monsanto (The World According to Monsanto), ARTE, 2008; and the website of the NGO, Coalition Against Bayer-Dangers,
27. GM company Monsanto has launched many such lawsuits against farmers. A famous example is the case of the Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser. Just one article on this case is “GM firm sues Canadian farmer”, BBC News Online, 6 June 2000,
28. Monsanto ”Seed Police” Scrutinize Farmers. Stephen Leahy, InterPress Service, 15 January 2004,

For more information on GMOs:

Friday, January 14, 2011

Nourishing the Planet

Report provides a roadmap for food security and agricultural investment, revealing 15 high- and low-tech solutions that are helping to reduce hunger and poverty in Africa
New York, New York (12 January 2011)--Worldwatch Institute today released its report State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, which spotlights successful agricultural innovations and unearths major successes in preventing food waste, building resilience to climate change, and strengthening farming in cities. The report provides a roadmap for increased agricultural investment and more-efficient ways to alleviate global hunger and poverty. Drawing from the world's leading agricultural experts and from hundreds of innovations that are already working on the ground, the report outlines 15 proven, environmentally sustainable prescriptions. 
"The progress showcased through this report will inform governments, policymakers, NGOs, and donors that seek to curb hunger and poverty, providing a clear roadmap for expanding or replicating these successes elsewhere," said Worldwatch Institute President Christopher Flavin. "We need the world's influencers of agricultural development to commit to longstanding support for farmers, who make up 80 percent of the population in Africa."
State of the World 2011 comes at a time when many global hunger and food security initiatives--such as the Obama administration's Feed the Future program, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP)--can benefit from new insight into environmentally sustainable projects that are already working to alleviate hunger and poverty. 

Nearly a half-century after the Green Revolution, a large share of the human family is still chronically hungry. While investment in agricultural development by governments, international lenders, and foundations has escalated in recent years, it is still nowhere near what is needed to help the 925 million people who are undernourished. Since the mid-1980s when agricultural funding was at its height, agriculture's share of global development aid has fallen from over 16 percent to just 4 percent today. 
In 2008, $1.7 billion in official development assistance was provided to support agricultural projects in Africa, based on statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)--a miniscule amount given the vital return on investment. Given the current global economic conditions, investments are not likely to increase in the coming year. Much of the more recently pledged funding has yet to be raised, and existing funding is not being targeted efficiently to reach the poor farmers of Africa. 
"The international community has been neglecting entire segments of the food system in its efforts to reduce hunger and poverty," said Danielle Nierenberg, co-director of Worldwatch's Nourishing the Planet project. "The solutions won't necessarily come from producing more food, but from changing what children eat in schools, how foods are processed and marketed, and what sorts of food businesses we are investing in."

Serving locally raised crops to school children, for example, has proven to be an effective hunger- and poverty-reducing strategy in many African nations, and has strong parallels to successful farm-to-cafeteria programs in the United States and Europe. Moreover, "roughly 40 percent of the food currently produced worldwide is wasted before it is consumed, creating large opportunities for farmers and households to save both money and resources by reducing this waste," according to Brian Halweil, Nourishing the Planet co-director.
State of the World 2011 draws from hundreds of case studies and first-person examples to offer solutions to reducing hunger and poverty. These include:  
  • In 2007, some 6,000 women in The Gambia organized into the TRY Women's Oyster Harvesting producer association, creating a sustainable co-management plan for the local oyster fishery to prevent overharvesting and exploitation. Oysters and fish are an important, low-cost source of protein for the population, but current production levels have led to environmental degradation and to changes in land use over the last 30 years. The government is working with groups like TRY to promote less-destructive methods and to expand credit facilities to low-income producers to stimulate investment in more-sustainable production. 
  • In Kibera, Nairobi, the largest slum in Kenya, more than 1,000 women farmers are growing "vertical" gardens in sacks full of dirt poked with holes, feeding their families and communities. These sacks have the potential to feed thousands of city dwellers while also providing a sustainable and easy-to-maintain source of income for urban farmers. With more than 60 percent of Africa's population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, such methods may be crucial to creating future food security. Currently, some 33 percent of Africans live in cities, and 14 million more migrate to urban areas each year. Worldwide, some 800 million people engage in urban agriculture, producing 15–20 percent of all food.
  • Pastoralists in South Africa and Kenya are preserving indigenous varieties of livestock that are adapted to the heat and drought of local conditions--traits that will be crucial as climate extremes on the continent worsen. Africa has the world's largest area of permanent pasture and the largest number of pastoralists, with 15–25 million people dependent on livestock.
  • The Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) is using interactive community plays to engage women farmers, community leaders, and policymakers in an open dialogue about gender equity, food security, land tenure, and access to resources.  Women in sub-Saharan Africa make up at least 75 percent of agricultural workers and provide 60–80 percent of the labor to produce food for household consumption and sale, so it is crucial that they have opportunities to express their needs in local governance and decision-making. This entertaining and amicable forum makes it easier for them to speak openly.
  • Uganda's Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) program is integrating indigenous vegetable gardens, nutrition information, and food preparation into school curriculums to teach children how to grow local crop varieties that will help combat food shortages and revitalize the country's culinary traditions. An estimated 33 percent of African children currently face hunger and malnutrition, which could affect some 42 million children by 2025. School nutrition programs that don't simply feed children, but also inspire and teach them to become the farmers of the future, are a huge step toward improving food security. 
The State of the World 2011 report is accompanied by other informational materials including briefing documents, summaries, an innovations database, videos, and podcasts, all of which are available at The project's findings are being disseminated to a wide range of agricultural stakeholders, including government ministries, agricultural policymakers, farmer and community networks, and the increasingly influential non-governmental environmental and development communities.
In conducting this research, Worldwatch's Nourishing the Planet project received unprecedented access to major international research institutions, including those in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research(CGIAR) system. The team also interacted extensively with farmers and farmers' unions as well as with the banking and investment communities.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

10 Reasons to Buy (Eat, Grow, and Be) Organic

On this sunny cold afternoon, with a very cold night ahead, I am picking the last arugula from the unheated greenhouses, so calling an official end to the 2010 growing season (early in 2011!). With the ground frozen and blanketed with snow at this beginning of January, it is good to recall why we do (or should do) this organic thing,

courtesy of an old Whole Foods paper shopping bag that I kept for the rallying text:

  1. Protect Future Generations - Children receive four times more exposure than adults to cancer-causing pesticides in food.
  2. Prevent Soil Erosion - At least three billion tons of topsoil are eroded from crops lands in North America each year, much of it due to conventional farming practices, which often ignore the health of the soil.
  3. Humane Treatment of Animals - Free-range, pasture-based livestock farms ensure animal health and positively impact natural animal behaviour.
  4. Keep Chemicals Off Your Plate - Pesticides are toxins designed to kill living organisms. Organic foods are grown without these chemicals, protecting you, the consumer.
  5. Protect Farm Worker Health - Farmers and farm workers enjoy better health when they work in a pesticide-free environment.
  6. Save Energy – More energy is now used to produce synthetic fertilizers than to till, cultivate, and harvest the crops.
  7. Help Small Farmers – Although more and more large-scale farms are making the conversion to organic practices, most organic farms are small, independently-owned and –operated family farms.
  8. Support A True Economy – Organic foods might seem expensive; however, your tax dollars pay for hazardous waste clean-up and environmental damage caused by conventional farming.
  9. Promote Biodiversity – Planting large plots of land with the same crop year after year increases farm production, but the lack of natural diversity of plant life has negatively affected soil quality.
  10. Flavour & Nourishment – Organic farming starts with the nourishment of the soil, producing nourished, & nourishing, plants. Conduct your own taste test!

Couldn’t agree more.