Natural Foods Merchandiser

Thumbs Down All Around for GMOs

In this country, and overseas, a series of decisions and determinations have been handed down that restrict, delay or altogether ban the production or sale of GM products.

It?s been a rough couple of months for advocates of genetically modified crops. In this country, and overseas, a series of decisions and determinations have been handed down that restrict, delay or altogether ban the production or sale of GM products.

?We?ve had some real good successes lately,? said Craig Winters, executive director of the Seattle-based Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods. ?Some of the battles are significant, and the biotech industry is getting desperate.?

On April 9, the California Department of Food and Agriculture denied biotech company Ventria Bioscience the authority to proceed with widespread planting of a rice plant it had developed in the lab. The decision came 11 days after the California Rice Commission approved Ventria?s plan to grow rice containing human proteins, which the company wants to use in medicines aimed at fighting anemia and diarrhea, both major killers of children worldwide.

Many rice growers and GM opponents throughout the state had opposed Ventria?s ?pharma? crop technology because of the risk of cross-pollination and contamination of organic and conventional rice plants.

Opposition to GM crops comes not just from activist groups and small agricultural interests, however. The North American Millers Association, which represents food behemoths like ConAgra Foods, General Mills and PepsiCo, fired off a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in late March warning of the contamination danger that GM crops grown specifically for pharmaceutical and industrial purposes pose to the nation?s food supply.

Winters sees opportunity in the discontent of large agricultural companies, calling them ?strange bedfellows.?

?If we can team up with the mainstream grocery industry, we might go a bit further than if we did this alone,? he said.

Meanwhile, the battles continue. On March 2, Mendocino County, Calif., became the first county in the United States to ban growing and raising GM plants and animals. A month later, the Vermont House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation, by a vote of 125-10, that would mandate labeling genetically engineered seeds sold in the state. The bill was slated to go to the Senate after The Natural Foods Merchandiser went to press.

Overseas efforts to stymie GM crop expansion efforts have been more severe. In late March, Western Australia became the first state in the land down under to ban the production of GM crops. Around the same time, Bayer AG?s biotech subsidiary, Bayer CropScience, abandoned plans to grow herbicide-tolerant corn in the United Kingdom because of government regulations it deemed too strict.

Japanese consumer groups paid a visit to state and federal agricultural leaders in North Dakota in March to warn them that Japan would reject American wheat exports if Monsanto Co. was allowed to introduce a GM version of wheat in the United States.

Mark Lipson, policy project director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, Calif., thinks other countries have the right approach to GM crops and products.

?They don?t use the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil and speak-no-evil approach of the United States,? Lipson said. ?And they won?t have this free-for-all risk of ecological disaster.?

John Aguilar is a free-lance business reporter in Denver.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 5/p. 9

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