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A wonderful informative satire by Infomatic Films.

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by DAN CHARLES
NPR
December 5,2011

Hidden in the soil of Illinois and Iowa, a new generation of insect larvae appears to be munching happily on the roots of genetically engineered corn, according to scientists. It’s bad news for corn farmers, who paid extra money for this line of corn, counting on the power of its inserted genes to kill those pests. It’s also bad news for the biotech company Monsanto, which inserted the larvae-killing gene in the first place.

In fact, the gene’s apparent failure, as reported in the journal PLoS One, may be the most serious threat to a genetically modified crop in the U.S. since farmers first started growing them 15 years ago. The economic impact could be “huge,” says the University of Arizona’s Bruce Tabashnik, one of the country’s top experts on the adaptation of insects to genetically engineered crops. Billions of dollars are at stake.

The story of how this happened is long and complicated, but the details are important, so let’s start at the beginning.

Almost the entire agricultural biotech industry has been built on just two genetic traits, and our story involves one of them.

The gene (actually a family of genes) in this story — the first pillar of the industry — was copied from an insect-killing bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. In the 1980s, scientists managed to insert a Bt gene into plants, and voila, the plant cells started manufacturing the same worm-killing toxin as the bacteria. (The other big gene for the agricultural biotech industry allows a plant to survive doses of the popular herbicide glyphosate, widely known by Monsanto’s trade name, Roundup.)

So-called Bt corn went on sale in the late 1990s. It has been astonishingly effective against the European corn borer, a common pest.

But from the beginning, scientists worried that biotech companies were overusing Bt and increasing the chances that it would eventually stop working. Why? The key word is resistance.

The more widely you spray any insecticide, the more likely you are to uncover and promote the growth of a new strain of insects that’s resistant to your insect killer. It has happened with one insecticide after another over the decades. Eventually, scientists said, the same thing would happen to a crop that carries its own insecticide. Covering fields with Bt crops would lead to a strain of insects that the crops didn’t kill.

So university researchers and federal regulators came up with a strategy to preserve Bt’s effectiveness. First of all, they said Bt crops (mainly corn and cotton) should be extremely effective. Ideally, they would kill 99.99 percent of all the target insects that fed on them.

And for those rare insects that survived, regulators came up with a second line of defense, to prevent resistant insects from mating and producing lots of resistant offspring. Farmers who grew Bt corn (or cotton) were required to grow non-Bt crops on some of their farm, as a “refuge” for normal insects. That way, the rare, surviving, resistant insects would probably find non-resistant mates, instead of each other, and their offspring still would (likely) be killed by the Bt corn.

To the surprise of some environmentalists, the strategy has worked. There’s no evidence that the European corn borer has evolved resistance to the Bt toxin. The same goes for some insects that feed on cotton, such as the pink bollworm — at least in the United States.

(more…)

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LA Times, 9/20/2011

The agribusiness giant already has quietly stepped into the marketplace with vegetables grown from its seeds. The goal is to use its technology to create produce that tastes better and plants that yield more product, while letting farmers use fewer resources.

Monsanto aims to dominate today’s $3-billion global market for produce seeds, much as it already has done with corn and soybeans. Above, Martin Stoecker, a corn scientist at Monsanto, walks along rows of biotech corn inside a greenhouse at the company’s research facilities in Chesterfield, Mo. (P.J. Huffstutter, Los Angeles Times / August 4, 2011)

Reporting from Creve Coeur, Mo.

Monsanto Co., whose genetically modified corn and soybeans have reshaped America’s heartland and rallied a nation of fast-food foes, wants to revolutionize the produce aisle.

The agribusiness giant already has quietly stepped into the marketplace with produce grown from its seeds.

Grocery customers in California and elsewhere are chopping its onions that produce fewer tears, stir-frying its broccoli that decreases cholesterol and biting into tiny orange tomatoes that last longer on the shelf.

Soon, people will be thumping melons bred to be a single serving and shucking sweet corn genetically modified to enable farmers to spray the fields with the company’s weed killer, Roundup.

To do this, it’s marrying conventional breeding methods with its vast technological resources to bring about changes in fruits and vegetables in months or years, rather than in decades.

Monsanto’s goal: to dominate today’s $3-billion global market for produce seeds, much as it already has done with corn and soybeans.

“This isn’t a hobby…. We’re serious about it,” said Monsanto Chief Executive Hugh Grant, who expects the company’s vegetable seed revenue to rival its $1.5-billion soybean business in the coming decade.

The move has raised the hackles of some environmental and organic farming groups that fear it will ultimately squeeze out smaller, independent vegetable seed firms.

They also worry that the company will use technology to introduce revolutionary new genes into vegetable plants, just as Monsanto scientists have done in corn, soybeans and cotton.

“Clearly, the company wants to keep its options open,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist with the food and environmental program at Union of Concerned Scientists. “But I think they understand it’s a dicey proposition to move into [genetically engineered] foods that are widely consumed, rather than foods that are highly processed or used as animal feed.”

Monsanto officials said the opportunities for growth in the vegetable seed market were too good to ignore. They said there were plenty of ways to use technology to design better-tasting vegetables, yet avoid the financial and consumer hurdles that would inevitably come with rolling out genetically engineered produce for a grocery store.

The amount of arable land worldwide is dwindling, while the world’s population is forecast to jump to more than 9 billion by 2050 from nearly 6.9 billion today. Shifts in weather patterns have caused recent slumps in key crops.

All this, in turn, has water-strapped countries eager to establish secure food supplies. Fast-growing economies, such as those in India and China, also are stepping up food imports to feed a burgeoning middle class.

Given these factors, Monsanto is making a multibillion-dollar bet that global farming conditions are going to get tougher and farmers are going to be hungry for their vegetable and fruit seeds.

Revenue from Monsanto’s vegetable seed business totaled $895 million for the company’s fiscal year that ended Aug. 31. That’s about 8% of its annual revenue, a figure the company hopes to grow steadily in coming years.

Monsanto moved aggressively into the vegetable business in 2005 when it bought seed powerhouse Seminis Inc. in Oxnard. Since then, it has acquired four other vegetable seed companies, opened 57 research centers worldwide and hired a slew of seed geneticists and agricultural researchers.

Today, Monsanto has about 4,000 employees — nearly a fifth of its 21,000 global labor force — working on its vegetable seed business worldwide.

It has nearly doubled the staff at its test farm and research greenhouses in Woodland, Calif., a farm community 18 miles west of Sacramento, where much of the company’s vegetable seed research happens.

Dozens of varieties of tomatoes, hot peppers and onions fill the 144-acre farm facility, where company researchers walk the fields each day, inspecting specimens and collecting samples to study under a microscope.

“A lot of technologies we’ve used for years are very applicable to vegetables,” said Marlin Edwards, chief technology officer for Monsanto’s vegetable seeds division, who is based in Northern California.

Monsanto is relying on a strategy similar to the one it tapped to dominate the world of commodity crops: Use technology to speed up the breeding process. The goal is to create produce that tastes better and plants that yield more product, while letting farmers use fewer resources.

Monsanto officials are quick to stress that they are not creating genetically modified crops. In its Roundup Ready soybeans, for example, Monsanto developed seedlings with genes from a soil bacterium to help the plant to survive being sprayed with its herbicide.

With vegetables, scientists are looking for answers in the same, or similar, varieties of plants. So a trait in one pepper, such as flavor, might be meshed with the DNA of another pepper. The technique has been helpful developing vegetable plants that can withstand certain pests, said Consuelo Madere, vice president of Monsanto’s global vegetable group.

Such techniques speed up the conventional breeding process, Madere said.

“Our researchers have found natural resistances in the DNA of wild-grown peppers,” Madere said. “So why not breed that resistance into the seed? You don’t need [biotech] for something that nature has already figured out.”

But some scientists say this is genetic modification — just a different type.

“What they really are doing is creating something where the probability is very low that it would have happened in nature without human intervention,” said R. Paul Thompson, director of graduate studies at the University of Toronto’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology.

Although Monsanto has made billions of dollars selling biotech corn and soybeans, which are used in animal feed and processed food, it has generally shied away from investing in biotech products sold directly to consumers.

Part of the reason is simple economics. Biotech seeds typically take years to clear government regulatory systems in the U.S. and elsewhere before they are sold and sown. Non-biotech seeds can be brought to market faster.

Part of the reason, too, is to avoid the headaches of public controversy. The company ran into that problem in the 1990s and early 2000s with its NewLeaf potato.

The bio-engineered potato was developed to repel the Colorado potato beetle. But major French fry manufacturers and McDonald’s, which were worried about the public debate over whether biotech crops were safe, barred their growers from raising the genetically modified potatoes.

Monsanto ultimately shelved the product line.

Now the company is focused on its better-breeding approach.

Consumers now can buy Beneforte broccoli, which Monsanto claims has twice as much antioxidant benefit than typical broccoli varieties. There’s the company’s EverMild onion, which has lower sulfur levels and causes fewer tears when cut. And there’s the orange grape tomato, which is bred to be sweeter, with a lower acidity level and a richer fragrance than conventional grape tomatoes on the market.

Monsanto, however, hasn’t completely ruled out the idea of genetically modified vegetables. After all, genetically engineered produce has already made some inroads into U.S. grocery stores.

The University of Hawaii’s genetically modified papaya, resistant to the papaya ringspot virus, has been growing and sold for years. Biotech giant Syngenta has been selling biotech sweet corn for nearly a decade.

Monsanto’s entry into biotech sweet corn will hit U.S. farm fields later this year. The company is waiting for regulatory approval for a variety of eggplant in India that is resistant to some insects.

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by Clare Leschin-Hoar

29 Sep 2011 7:45 AM

Isaac WedinAquaBounty Technology’s genetically modified salmon just got a hefty financial boost from the USDA: On Monday, the agency awarded the Massachusetts-based company $494,000 to study technologies that would render the genetically tweaked fish sterile. This would reduce the likelihood they could reproduce with wild salmon, should any escape into the wild — a scenario that has many environmentalists concerned.

The Atlantic salmon, which is branded with the name AquAdvantage, has been genetically altered with a growth-hormone gene from a Chinook salmon and a “genetic on-switch” gene from an ocean pout that will allow the fish to grow all year round, reaching market size much faster than traditional salmon.

In mid-2010, AquaBounty’s salmon appeared to be on the fast-track for approval by the FDA, which would have made it the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption. But the process has since been stalled. Lawmakers in states like California and Alaska have been actively introducing legislation that requires the fish to be labeled as a GMO product or to prohibit its production entirely. Then, this June, the House of Representatives voted to prohibit the FDA from using funds for approval of the salmon.

The same bill the House voted on (an Agriculture Appropriations amendment) is currently stalled in the Senate. Now the USDA grant is raising eyebrows. Upon FDA approval, the company would sell salmon eggs to aquaculture operations looking to farm the fish. The majority of farmed salmon are raised in open-net ocean pens, a practice environmentalists have condemned for years because of escapement, pollution, and disease. So it’s no surprise that the issue of reproductive ability is being closely scrutinized.

The FDA released a Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee report in September 2010 saying, “we have reason to believe that the population of triploid, all-female AquAdvantage Salmon will be effectively sterile,” and AquaBounty’s own website promotes the sterility of the fish. In an email to Grist, however, Ronald L. Stotish, CEO and president of AquaBounty acknowledged that their technology is not yet 100-percent effective — thus the need for the FDA funding.

Stotish says AquAdvantage Salmon are currently rendered sterile by a “pressure treatment process that has been validated to 99.8-percent effectiveness.” The fish are also all female, and will be raised in physical containment. “Because the company realizes that our detractors do not respond to reason and science,” added Stotish, “we are developing a genetics-based process that will allow us to breed 100 percent sterile offspring. That is 100 percent sterile, guaranteed.”

That certainly sounds responsible, but GMO salmon fact sheet released in June by the advocacy group Food and Water Watch suggests that the numbers may not be so airtight. According to their research, which cites an environmental assessment from the FDA briefing packet on AquAdvantage salmon, “up to 5 percent of these fish may be fertile.”

But even Stotish’s .2 percent number worries Ocean Conservancy director George Leonard, as a handful of escaped fish every year could make a big difference over time. “If AquaBounty hasn’t yet figured out how to make the salmon fully sterile, then they shouldn’t be applying to the FDA to deploy the fish,” he says. “Let’s fix the problem first, not after the salmon get out.”

Colin O’Neil, regulatory policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, an environmental advocacy group focused on genetic engineering, says this is the first time they’ve heard of the USDA being involved with the genetically engineered fish.

“If the FDA was so assured of the scientific merits of this application, they would have approved it by now,” he says. “The mere fact that it has taken this long tells me that the jury is still out.”

The grant comes on the heels of the company’s interim report released on Friday, which announced a net loss of $2.8 million, and a reduction of three board members. In other words, it’s clear that AquaBounty is under the gun to roll out their business and begin “literally own[ing] salmon farming,” as Paul Greenburg put it in a recent article.

Stotish says the delays in approval are because of groups who have “intimidated regulators with threats of lawsuits” and “misled the public ” He adds that the company remains optimistic that congress will will not shrink from what he calls “their commitment to science-based regulation,” and that it will “stand up to the pressure from the anti-technology groups.”

According to O’Neil, however, a great deal of the scientific community is actually weighing in on the side of caution. “It would be reckless for the FDA to approve genetically engineered salmon given the large number of environmental, human health, animal welfare and economic risks that have been raised by scientists, members of Congress and members of the FDA’s own Advisory Committee,” he says.
Clare Leschin-Hoar covers fishing and sustainable seafood. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, Scientific American, Eating Well, and many more. In May, she was selected as a 2011 Seafood Champion by the Monterey Bay Aquarium

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Published on Monday, August 29, 2011 by The Wall Street Journal

Monsanto Corn Plant Losing Bug Resistance
by Scott Kilman
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/08/29-4

Widely grown corn plants that Monsanto Co. genetically modified to thwart a voracious bug are falling prey to that very pest in a few Iowa fields, the first time a major Midwest scourge has developed resistance to a genetically modified crop.

Corn earworm larva feasting on a corn ear. Iowa State University entomologist Aaron Gassmann’s discovery that western corn rootworms in four northeast Iowa fields have evolved to resist the natural pesticide made by Monsanto’s corn plant could encourage some farmers to switch to insect-proof seeds sold by competitors of the St. Louis crop biotechnology giant, and to return to spraying harsher synthetic insecticides on their fields.
The discovery raises concerns that the way some farmers are using biotech crops could spawn superbugs.

Iowa State University entomologist Aaron Gassmann’s discovery that western corn rootworms in four northeast Iowa fields have evolved to resist the natural pesticide made by Monsanto’s corn plant could encourage some farmers to switch to insect-proof seeds sold by competitors of the St. Louis crop biotechnology giant, and to return to spraying harsher synthetic insecticides on their fields.

“These are isolated cases, and it isn’t clear how widespread the problem will become,” said Dr. Gassmann in an interview. “But it is an early warning that management practices need to change.”

The finding adds fuel to the race among crop biotechnology rivals to locate the next generation of genes that can protect plants from insects. Scientists at Monsanto andSyngenta AG of Basel, Switzerland, are already researching how to use a medical breakthrough called RNA interference to, among other things, make crops deadly for insects to eat. If this works, a bug munching on such a plant could ingest genetic code that turns off one of its essential genes.

Monsanto said its rootworm-resistant corn seed lines are working as it expected “on more than 99% of the acres planted with this technology” and that it is too early to know what the Iowa State University study means for farmers.

The discovery comes amid a debate about whether the genetically modified crops that now saturate the Farm Belt are changing how some farmers operate in undesirable ways.

These insect-proof and herbicide-resistant crops make farming so much easier that many growers rely heavily on the technology, violating a basic tenet of pest management, which warns that using one method year after year gives more opportunity for pests to adapt.

Monsanto is already at the center of this issue because of its success since the 1990s marketing seeds that grow into crops that can survive exposure to its Roundup herbicide, a glyphosate-based chemical known for its ability to kill almost anything green.

These seeds made it so convenient for farmers to spray Roundup that many farmers stopped using other weedkillers. As a result, say many scientists, superweeds immune to Roundup have spread to millions of acres in more than 20 states in the South and Midwest.

Monsanto became the first company to sell rootworm-resistant biotech corn to farmers in 2003. The seed contains a gene from a common soil microorganism called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, from which crop biotechnology has been used to mine several genes for making insecticidal proteins.

One of the genes Monsanto developed makes a crystalline protein called Cry3Bb1. It rips apart the gut of the rootworm but is harmless to mammals, birds and most beneficial insects. Competitors, which use other Bt genes to attack the rootworm, estimate that roughly one-third of the corn grown in the U.S. carries Monsanto’s Cry3Bb1 gene.

Monsanto said it generated world-wide sales of $4.26 billion from corn seed and biotechnology traits, about 40% of its overall sales, in its last full year.

Until insecticide-producing corn plants arrived, Midwest farmers typically tried to keep pests like the corn borer and the rootworm in check by changing what they grew in a field each year, often rotating between corn and soybeans. That way, the offspring of corn-loving insects would starve the next year.

Some farmers began to plant corn in the same field year after year. The financial incentive to grow corn has increased in recent years in part because the ethanol-fuel industry’s exploding appetite for corn has helped to lift prices to very profitable levels for growers.

According to Dr. Gassmann, the Iowa fields in which he found rootworms resistant to the Cry3Bb1 toxin had been producing Monsanto’s Bt-expressing corn continuously for at least three years. Dr. Gassmann collected rootworm beetles from four Iowa cornfields with plant damage in 2009. Their larvae were then fed corn containing Monsanto’s Cry3Bb1 toxin. They had a survival rate three times that of control larvae that ate the same corn.

Dr. Gassmann found that Monsanto’s Bt toxin still had some lethal impact on the larvae from the problem Iowa fields, and that the bugs were still highly susceptible to a rootworm-resistant corn plant from a competitor that uses a different Bt toxin, called Cry34/35Ab1.

Scientists in other Farm Belt states are also looking for signs that Monsanto’s Bt corn might be losing its effectiveness. Mike Gray, a University of Illinois entomologist, said he is studying rootworm beetles he collected in northwest Illinois earlier this month from fields where Monsanto’s Bt-expressing corn had suffered extensive rootworm damage.

The government requires that farmers who plant the genetically modified corn take certain steps aimed at preventing insects from developing resistance. Farmers are told to create a refuge for the bugs by planting non-modified corn in part of their fields. The refuge, which can be as much as 20% of a farmer’s field, is supposed to reduce the chances that two toxin-resistant bugs mate and pass along that trait to their offspring.

Dr. Gray said the confirmation of toxin-resistant rootworms in Iowa could force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to revisit its policy of allowing the size of these insect refuges to shrink to as little as 5% of a cornfield as crop biotechnology companies begin to sell seed for corn plants that can make two different rootworm-killing toxins.

Part of what has attracted some farmers to Monsanto’s new SmartStax corn line is that it allows them to plant a smaller refuge. But one of the two anti-rootworm toxins in that variety is the Cry3Bb1 protein at the center of Dr. Gassmann’s study.

The EPA said it is too early to comment on any implications arising from Dr. Gassmann’s paper.

© 2011 The Wall Street Journal

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New York – August 11, 2011

The eighty-three family farmers, small and family owned seed businesses, and agricultural organizations challenging Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seed filed papers in federal court today defending their right to seek legal protection from the threat of being sued by Monsanto for patent infringement should they ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed. The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) represents the plaintiffs in the suit, titled Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association (OSGATA), et al. v. Monsanto and pending in the Southern District of New York. Today’s filings respond to a motion filed by Monsanto in mid-July to have the case dismissed.

“Rather than give a straight forward answer on whether they would sue our clients for patent infringement if they are ever contaminated by Monsanto’s transgenic seed, Monsanto has instead chosen to try to deny our clients the right to receive legal protection from the courts,” said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT’s Executive Director. “Today’s filings include sworn statements by several of the plaintiffs themselves explaining to the court how the risk of contamination by transgenic seed is real and why they cannot trust Monsanto to not use an occurrence of contamination as a basis to accuse them of patent infringement.”

Plaintiffs Bryce Stephens, who farms in Kansas, Frederick Kirschenmann, who farms in North Dakota, C.R. Lawn, who is founder and co-owner of Fedco Seeds in Maine, Don Patterson of Virginia, and Chuck Noble, who farms in South Dakota, each submitted declarations to the court describing their personal experiences with the risk of contamination by genetically modified seed and why those experiences have forced them to bring the current suit asking the court to declare that Monsanto could never sue them for patent infringement if they were ever contaminated by Monsanto’s GMO seed. As summarized by the accompanying brief filed by PUBPAT on the plaintiffs’ behalf, “Monsanto’s acts of widespread patent assertion and plaintiffs’ ever growing risk of contamination create a real, immediate and substantial dispute between them.”

Twelve agricultural organizations also filed a friend-of-the-court amici brief supporting the right of the plaintiffs to bring the case. In their brief, the amici describe some of the harmful effects of genetically modified seed and how easily GMOs can contaminate an organic or conventional farmer’s land. The organizations filing the amici brief were Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Ecological Farmers of Ontario, Fair Food Matters, International Organic Inspectors Association, Michigan Land Trustees, Natural Environment Ecological Management, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Association, Organic Council of Ontario, Slow Food USA, and Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association. (The full text of the filings can be found at:
http://www.pubpat.org/mtdoppfiled.htm )

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NaturalNews) Purveyors of conventional and genetically-modified (GM) crops — and the pesticides and herbicides that accompany them — are finally getting a taste of their own legal medicine. Minnesota’s Star Tribune has reported that the Minnesota Court of Appeals recently ruled that a large organic farm surrounded by chemical-laden conventional farms can seek damages for lost crops, as well as lost profits, caused by the illegal trespassing of pesticides and herbicides on its property.

Oluf and Debra Johnson’s 1,500-acre organic farm in Stearns County, Minn., has repeatedly been contaminated by nearby conventional and GMO farms since the couple started it in the 1990s. A local pesticide cooperative known as Paynesville Farmers Union (PFU), which is near the farm, has been cited at least four times for violating pesticide laws, and inadvertently causing damage to the Johnson’s farm.

The first time it was realized that pesticides had drifted onto the Johnson’s farm in 1998, PFU apologized, but did not agree to pay for damages. As anyone with an understanding of organic practices knows, even a small bit of contamination can result in having to plow under that season’s crops, forget profits, and even lose the ability to grow organic crops in the same field for at least a couple years.

The Johnson’s let the first incident slide. But after the second, third, and fourth times, they decided that enough was enough. Following the second pesticide drift in 2002, the Johnson’s filed a complaint with the Minnesota Agriculture Department, which eventually ruled that PFU had illegally sprayed chemicals on windy days, which led to contamination of the Johnson’s organic crops.

PFU settled with the Johnson’s out of court, and the Johnson’s agreed to sell their tainted products as non-organics for a lower price, and pull the fields from production for three years in order to bring them back up to organic standards. But PFU’s inconsiderate spraying habits continued, with numerous additional incidents occurring in 2005, 2007, and 2008, according to the Star Tribune.

After enduring much hardship, the Johnson’s finally ended up suing PFU in 2009 for negligence and trespass, only to receive denial from the district court that received the case. But after appealing, the Johnson’s received favor from the Appeals Court, which ruled that particulate matter, including pesticides, herbicides, and even GM particulates, that contaminates nearby fields is, in fact, considered illegal trespass, and is subject to the same laws concerning other forms of trespass.

In a similar case, a California-based organic farm recently won a $1 million lawsuit filed against a conventional farm whose pesticides spread through fog from several miles away, and contaminated its fields. Jacobs Farm / Del Cobo’s entire season’s herb crop had to be discarded as a result, and the court that presided over the case acknowledged and agreed that the polluters must be held responsible (http://organicfood.einnews.com/arti…).

Precedent has now been set for organic farmers to sue biotechnology companies whose GMOs contaminate their crops

The stunning victories of both the Johnson’s and Jacob’s Farm / Del Cobo against their chemical-polluting neighbors is huge, in that it represents a new set legal precedent for holding conventional, factory farming operations responsible for the damage their systems cause to other farms. And with this new precedent set, many more organic farmers, for instance, can now begin suing GMO farmers for both chemical and genetic pollution that drifts onto their farms.

Many NaturalNews readers will recall the numerous incidents involving lawsuits filed by Monsanto against non-GMO farms whose crops were inadvertently contaminated by GM material. In many of these cases, the defendants ended up becoming bankrupted by Monsanto, even though Monsanto’s patented materials were the trespassers at fault.

Be sure to check out the extensive and very informative report compiled by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) entitled Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers for a complete history of Monsanto’s war against traditional American agriculture: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/…

But it appears that the tables are now turning. Instead of Monsanto winning against organic farmers, organic farmers can now achieve victory against Monsanto. In other words, farmers being infringed upon by the drifting of GM material into their fields now have a legal leg to stand on in the pursuit of justice against Monsanto and the other biotechnology giants whose “frankencrops” are responsible for causing widespread contamination of the American food supply.

Genetic traits are highly transmissible, whether it be through pollen transfer or seed spread, and organic and non-GMO farmers have every right to seek damages for illegal trespassing when such transmission takes place. It is expected that many more organic farms will step up and begin seeking justice and compensation for damage caused by crop chemicals, GM materials, and other harmful invaders.

For too long, Monsanto has been getting away with suing farmers whose crops have become contaminated by Monsanto’s patented genetic traits and chemical materials, and winning. Thankfully, the justice system seems to now recognize the severe error in this, and is now beginning to rightfully hold polluters and trespassers responsible. Monsanto, your days are numbered.

Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/033216_GMO_contamination_lawsuits.html#ixzz1U6SqJvtA

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Becoming Soil Conscious

This fall I will be completing my new feature length documentary, Symphony of the Soil. Along with this exploration of soil, I am creating several short films, Sonatas of the Soil, each of which goes deeply into one soil-related topic like dry farming grapes, as is depicted in Portrait of a Winemaker: John Williams of Frogs’ Leap. Yes, I have become a soil freak or soil geek or soil lover or all three. How did this happen?

Several years ago I made the film The Future of Food that helped kick start the food movement. I spent years travelling around the country and the world showing the film and speaking about food and agriculture. That film was very well received and had a positive impact on a lot of people’s lives, so I decided to make another film in the same realm, a film about soil. Knowing little about soil before I committed to the project, I soon realized how incredibly complex soil is. How could I make a film that does justice to this fascinating substance, which is in fact a living organism? After all, if you just look at soil, there seems to be no action, no action at all. But if you are in the know, you marvel at what has gone into creating that soil, what is going on in it, the billions of organisms and dynamics we are only beginning to discover, and what happens because of soil, like the recycling of life.

The way I now understand soil, if I were holding some soil in my hand and said, “This is soil,” it would be like holding seawater in my hand and saying “This is the ocean.” I have spent the past few years wrestling with, crystallizing, distilling complexity. The study of soil involves chemistry, physics, anthropology, geology and geography, but most importantly, biology—the study of life—because soil is the essence of life. Soil is about transformation. Without soil, there would be no human race. In fact, the word “human” comes from the same root as the word “humus,” a component of soil. Soil is one of the true miracles of this planet. And we treat it like dirt.

Early in my research, an accomplished soil scientist told me that she didn’t think of soil as an agricultural medium, even though she has published many books and papers on agricultural soils. As I got up to speed on what soil really encompasses, I came to the realization that soil is a vast realm, and food and farming are only a part of that realm. I came to see soil as a protagonist of our planetary story. I became protective of it and broke myself of the habit of thinking soil/agriculture, soil/ agriculture, of thinking of soil and immediately jumping to “How can we use this? What can we get out of this?” The real questions became “How can we appreciate soil? How can we let it live?”

In much of what passes for agriculture today, soil has become an inert medium that chemicals are poured into and dollars are pulled out of. In fact, the chemicals that are poured into it can deform and kill the life in the soil and it’s the life in the soil that creates fertility. The classic, sensible axiom that healthy soil creates healthy plants that create healthy people has been lost in the vast fields of today’s industrial agriculture.

A year ago I was invited to go to China to show my films. One of our hosts was an esteemed scientist who told me that only about 10% of China’s soil is usable for farming or grazing. By contrast, over 40% of the soil in the United States is made up of the planet’s most productive soil types—the “molisols” found on prairie grasslands and fertile forest “alfisols.” This scientist also told me that the reality of so little good soil has shaped Chinese culture and character: they are more collective-minded, more careful, more conservative because they have to be. They have to pull together to be able to feed themselves. They have a similar situation with their water resources.

In America, on the other hand, we have lived as if we are so rich in resources that we can abuse our soil without consequences. We think we can let topsoil blow away and that there will always be more, somehow, somewhere. We Ameri-cans think of ourselves as highly individualistic. We like “doing our own thing.” If we have a problem with wanting too much and wasting too much, we can blame our good soil for that. With so much abundance, we have had little need of being careful. But, China has been around for thousands of years, and our modern US society about 300. Our soils have now become profoundly stressed and degraded. If we keep farming the way we are currently, we will be out of topsoil in 30 years. We need to reconsider what has become our national character, our “natural” tendencies. We don’t like limits, but we are running up against them. Rather than slipping into arrogant denial, we need to learn to thrive within limits, to take that as our challenge.

How do we create a healthy relationship with soil? We have to look to nature and see how she does it. Modern science offers us a way to explore this natural world. Today, because of advances in technology—electron microscopes, satellites and various tools for measuring—we know a lot more about soil. Soil science is now cutting edge and profoundly relevant in researching everything from climate change to nutrition.

We now know that soil is a complex ecosystem. Soil is a community, and we are all part of the soil community. From the smallest microorganisms to insects to prairie dogs to bison to humans, we are all taking from and giving back to the soil; it’s an incredibly dynamic process. Soil is the matrix and web of life. And it’s all about relationships. Burrowing animals churn up the soil to let air and water in, to let roots grow. Without them soil can become compact and dried out. Without grazing animals, prairies would become forests. Prairies support grasses and their deep roots that die and replenish the prairie soils, which is why those soils have the highest fertility of all soils. By contrast, tropical soils tend to be shallow and relatively infertile because all the life is held in the dense forest plants. Soil is also a mysterious ecosystem. 90% of the microorganisms in soil have not been identified, much less understood as to how they function.

One of the interesting things I’ve learned about soil is that it’s not just what we think of as “earth.” Soil is 50% solid matter, made up mostly of minerals, 25% air and 25% water—no matter how dry it seems. 1.5% to 15% of the solid matter is what is known as “soil organic matter.” Most of that is comprised of dead microorganisms and a very small percentage of it is alive. I see soil as being made up of all the elements—earth, air, water and the microorganisms are the fire—the force that drives life as it cycles through the soil.

In a healthy organic system, nematodes can eat 10,000 bacteria a day and break apart the nutrients, including nitrogen, in those bacteria and then poop them out so they are available to be taken up by plants. This is referred to as the “poop loop” and it functions as a nitrogen bank. Mycorrhizal fungi have a symbiotic relationship with plants—the plants give them carbohydrates and they reach out with hyphae, branching filaments tinier than plant roots, and find minerals to take back to the plant. This is how plants get the phosphorous they need to grow. Bacteria also feed on plant exudates, carbohydrates, and then build up around the plant, acting like a castle wall protecting the plant from diseases. These are examples of mutualism that only happen when soil is alive and functioning as a healthy system. Putting pesticides, chemical nitrogen and toxins into this system deforms or kills the microbial life and the result is diminished fertility, diminished resistance to disease. Plants diminished in this way become dependent on external chemical inputs to feed and protect them.

Sir Albert Howard’s work has influenced organic and sustainable farmers since he began speaking and writing in the early 20th century. One of his best-known practices, which he learned from peasant farmers in India, now known as Sir Albert Howard’s Law of Return, advises us to return to the soil what we take from it, as nature does. This means that organic matter and nutrients must be returned to the soil to feed and replenish it. Since farming by definition takes produce from the fields, farmers must find ways to give nutrients and organic matter back to the soil. Composting, cover crops and crop rotation are ways to do this. These practices which give back to the soil are in direct opposition to “mining” the soil, the “gut it and get out” mentality that ultimately produces barren land.

At the Jepson Prairie Organics facility in Vacaville, they create organic compost from San Francisco’s green and restaurant food waste. It is an amazing process and the end result is compost that even organic farmers can apply to their crops. We should be doing exactly this everywhere in this country. Our soils are starving for carbon and nutrients, and recycling our “clean” wastes can help restore the soil. Composting is a form of giving back to the soil, of mimicking what nature does when a leaf falls from a tree and decomposes back into the soil under that tree to feed it. I have filmed composting on four continents, and its increasingly popularity may be a saving grace to our planet’s soils.

In complete contrast to the work they are doing at Jepson Prairie Organics and other true composting facilities like it, is the repellent public policy that allows sewage sludge to be put on farmland. The way things are working now in our waste treatment systems, the cleaner the water, the more toxic the sludge. While humans have for eons returned human waste, liquid and night soil, to land, the reality is different now because of the amount of pharmaceuticals and other chemicals now in that waste. Industrial wastes, heavy metals and a long ugly list of chemicals now end up in sewage sludge, which has been politely renamed “biosolids,” and can be labeled “organic” because it contains carbon. This use of the term organic was grandfathered in before the USDA Organic Standards were defined. Companies and municipalities, including San Francisco, then mix the sludge with wood chips, label it “compost,” and sell it. Unsuspecting buyers think they are getting actual chemicalfree, transformed green and food waste, but they are not. In my opinion this is a scandal and should be the cause of a real public outcry because some of this stuff is being put on school gardens—given away for free!

Since we humans are members of the soil community, we too must learn that if we want our community, in the largest sense, to thrive, we must give back. And just as we have been taking from the soil and not giving back, our society has mirrored this tendency, and become one in which taking and not giving back has become the norm. If we treated our soil right, perhaps that would somehow change our whole society and change the way we relate to each other so we could create healthier, living communities.

Soil is indeed the protagonist of our planetary story. Halfway through making this film, I realized I was making a film about the underworld, about death and regeneration. Our bones and muscles, our bodies, are made up of nutrients we get from plants or animals that they got from the soil. We rise up out of the soil, and we return to it when we die. These elements are then recycled by soil back into life. And if you don’t have regeneration, the cycling of life into death and back into life, you just have degradation and death.

The good news is that soil is pretty forgiving. If we change the way we treat soil, we could solve so many of our problems in just a few years. Soil lovers unite! The planet we save will be our own!

Written by Deborah Koons Garcia
Deborah Koons Garcia has lived on the same watershed in Mill Valley for 35 years. She has been seeking out organic food since she became a vegetarian in 1970. She now eats wild salmon, too.

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA – May 24, 2011 – Today, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) was informed by Assemblymember Huffman’s office that they have decided to hold AB 88—the California bill which would require that all genetically engineered (GE) fish sold in California contain clear and prominent labeling—as a 2-year bill. This means it will not be up for a second vote in the Appropriations Committee this week and will instead be held until next year when it will go through the committee process again. This will give CFS and other organizations working on the bill more time to educate California legislators about the importance of this bill and its role in protecting consumer’s right to know how they’re food is produced.

read more from the Center for Food Safety’s website:

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“What has brought us here today is the belief that our current food system is broken… and we believe this system must be changed,” said Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation” and co-producer of “Food, Inc,” at the Future of Food Conference last Wednesday at Georgetown University. Organized by Washington Post Live, this conference brought together policymakers, scientific experts, advocates and food company leaders to think about how to fix the food system. Read an article by Mara Schechter

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