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Gene Giants Move to Contamination Strategy

Contaminated choices

By Robert Schubert
CropChoice editor

(Friday, Oct. 25, 2002 -- CropChoice commentary) --Monsanto and the rest of
the biotechnology and agro-chemical crew are spending $4.5 million to
persuade Oregon residents that they should vote down an initiative that
would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods in the state.

Among their arguments is the notion that people already have a choice. If
they don't want genetically modified corn flakes and soy shakes, they should
buy organically grown food. Its production standards disallow the use of
transgenic seeds.

People to whom this argument sounds convincing, and even those who opt for
organic as a matter of course, should think twice.

Why? Genetically modified crops threaten the survival of safe, sustainable
agriculture.

Their continued cultivation, particularly the easy crossing corn and canola,
gradually will render fruitless any efforts to keep the transgenic traits
out of organic harvests.

The breeze, the birds and the bees aid cross-pollination. Wind and water
move seed from field to field. Human and machine errors lead to mixing of
seed during processing, distribution and planting. The same is true of grain
handling. These are just a few reasons why biotech contamination is
happening and will accelerate.

Martin Entz, a professor of Agronomy at the University of Manitoba, attested
to this in June 2001 when he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that
the "GM canola has, in fact, spread much more rapidly than we thought it
would. It's absolutely impossible to control... It's been a great wake-up
call about the side effects of these GM technologies."

Nebraska organic farmer David Vetter told me recently: "The contamination
concerns me when I look at it here on the farm. There¹s not much you can do
to defend yourself. If you have increased acreage of this stuff, we¹ll see
more cross-pollination. But the bigger issue is the seed industry, which has
trouble segregating."

One should not forget the StarLink corn fiasco. Iowa farmers planted about 1
percent of this biotech variety, which did not have governmental approval to
be in human food. By harvest time, almost half the state's crop registered
positive for StarLink, which found its way into taco shells and other corn
products.

"Our investigations thus far from the 2000 harvest lead us to believe that
virtually all of the seed corn in the United States is contaminated with at
least a trace of genetically engineered material, and often more," David
Gould, a certifier with North Dakota-based Farm Verified Organics, told me
in February of 2001. "Even the organic lots are showing traces of biotech
varieties."

Gould added that if certifiers insisted on 0 percent contamination, then "we
shouldn't certify any corn as organic." Further, propagating genetically
modified crops year after year will lead to the presence of more and more
biotech material in organic and conventional varieties. That would mean
raising the tolerance levels. In the end, the idea of organic would become a
joke.

The fact that the biotech corporations are well along in polluting organic
foods with a technology they can't control undercuts their argument in the
Oregon labeling debate that people who don't want to eat genetically
engineered foods can simply go down the organic aisle. Those consumers
increasingly don't have that choice. The biotechnology industry contaminated
it.


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