Saturday, July 25, 2015

GMOs Won't Work In the Long Term

The problem we’re facing, however, is not about lack of sustainable solutions. The problem is that Big 6 pesticide companies like Monsanto — supported by USDA and backed by the U.S. government's export-driven trade agenda — have built up an agricultural economic system that puts multinational corporations' profits above people's well-being, and locks farmers into these unsustainable practices. – Marcia Ishii-Eiteman Apr 16, 2015  in GroundTruth (www.panna.org)

It's tough these days to be against genetic engineering of our food. Articles in Slate and The New Yorker make us look like looney fringe nut cases and the House of Representatives voted by a large margin to ban labeling of food that have genetically altered ingredients in them. It's bleak. Science, they tell us, is against us and we are just paranoids.

However, I don't know if you've noticed, but a lot of this bad press seems to have rolled off the same printer – there is a remarkable consistency through all of this that seems to look like one source fed these writers – that their research was something akin to calling up Monsanto and saying, “Do your GMO crops produce more?” And publishing Monsanto's answer with Monsanto's test results and calling that science.

Just like calling up the tobacco companies and asking if their products caused cancer and getting their 'no' answer and quoting their studies that prove that their cigarettes did indeed not cause cancer. In other words, a lot of what we are reading about the success of GMO crops is paid for by the biotechies pushing the stuff. And when you get a study that proves them wrong, they go after that researcher, not by refuting the research, but by slandering the researcher and attempting to ruin his or her career. It takes more guts than most people have to see their careers ruined and their name dragged through the mud, ergo, not much research disparaging genetic alteration gets very far along.

Thank God, in recent months, glyphosate has come under scrutiny. That is a shining chance to thwart at least that segment of genetic engineering. Not only is it a carcinogen, as declared by the World Health Organization, but touted as appearing in such benign places as mothers' breast milk as reported by Moms Across America, who noted that their sample of women were aware of GMOs and had worked for some time to avoid GmOs. Of course, the herbicide has been used to dry out grains like wheat (which s not commercially genetically altered) after harvesting, so simply avoiding GMOs will not stop glyphosate in your diet. In addition, testing showed considerably more glyphosate in the mothers' urine samples – way over what was found in the urine of European mothers in a study conducted in 2013. Now several counter studies to the breast milk study have responded indicating that the MAA study was wrong, but of course, Monsanto can buy (and has bought) favorable test results in the past, so who to believe? When there is any question about research, I like to trust those who aren't benefiting financially from the results, but who is that? Please note the MAA study is only preliminary but the World Health Organization's findings have got to be accorded some significant weight.

Those of us familiar with the lying nature of Monsanto are not surprised that the biotech giant has lied (and continues to lie) about glyphosate, the main ingredient in their popular Round Up weed killer. Remember they told us it was not only benign once in the soil, but also that it did not persist in nature; both claims are obviously incorrect. Did they somehow just overlook these facts or did they consciously lie about them? Take your pick, with Monsanto's track record on DDT, PCBs and their lies about those and other products, I'll believe the latter. If corporations are people, Monsanto should be placed on a lie detector.

But honestly, we do not need to argue these facts with all the biotech apologists and paid off cronies. We have a bigger truth that they cannot assail.

GMOs will lead to inevitable starvation in those countries that use them as the primary source of their food..

That is the simple honest truth.

It is provable that we have far fewer varieties of plants on our store shelves today thanks to the GMO boom and it will only get worse. It is this loss of genetic diversity that will be the death of us. Instead of having a robust variety of different kinds of the same produce, there are only a few genetically altered varieties to work with. Our acres and acres of corn are all planted with very similar genetic varieties. This means a pathogen that can attack one field, can attack many fields and suddenly you have a destroyed corn (or soy or whatever) crop. Prices go up – poorer folks suffer disproportionately, hunger in America.

To the labs creating these 'new' varieties in their labs, this is seen as a boon. After all, they can find the flaw in the pathogen and GMO a new variety that resists it and have more products to sell. But in truth, that becomes a new marketing gimmick – a new variety every year making investors and the company richer.

Conventional breeding would breed a different way. First off, we'd have many varieties in the field and some would be resistant and would find more people planting it next year. Conventional breeders would attack the problem in a different way. Genetic alterations of a crop operate in a specific way called “vertical” breeding – one trait is changed for the crop to survive. The one gene variation is easy for a given pathogen to circumvent. Conventional breeding happens “horizontally” and is much harder to thwart by a given pathogen. These are generalizations and there are exceptions, but generalizations tend to become generalizations because they are more often than not (and by a margin) true.

This was the genesis of the Irish Potato Famine. The blight attacked the two kinds, genetically similar, of potatoes grown in Ireland and these potatoes were the only food that most of the Irish peasants depended upon. (Before some one calls to me task for oversimplifying it, I know the “God sent the blight but English brought the famine” but this is an article on crop diversity, so please forgive me, we can deal with the famine another time). The same thing could happen here in a heartbeat. We are one of the most food insecure societies on earth because of our current dependence on genetic engineering. This will only get worse if Congress continues to take the biotech money and biotech lies and allow our health, our environment's health and our food diversity to continue to deteriorate at the alarming rate it is currently.  

Mind you, this is only one of many reasons we need to move away from the genetic engineering option to the traditional way of breeding new plants and also move away from the massive amounts of pesticides we use to grow our food.  

It has felt lonely these last few days, fighting the genetic alterations of our food. But the end game of this is too big to loose!  If we do not save our varieties of seeds and continue the tradition of saving our seeds from the big bullies, we will find our food supply locked up by the corporations and then what do we have?  We all wish to eat.  

Let it be healthy food, not patented and laced with poison or contaminated with genetic engineering. 

david 


Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Sad Day

Only minutes ago we learned that the US House of  Representatives voted to pass the ironically (or cynically) titled Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act.  This measure has been called by people who really support accurate food labels called the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act.   (The actually vote tally can be found at this site, which also tells which representatives voted for it and which did not.)

The discrepancies lie in whether or not you believe that people have a right to know what is in their food.  This act repeals all local laws on labeling in favor of a non-existent Federal law that will never be implemented by at least 275 representatives are bought and paid for by the bio-tech industry.  There is no other reason to deny Americans the rights enjoyed in most of the first world as regards the ingredients in our food. This is an outrage against the American process and a travesty against the American people.  In the past, pre-internet, perhaps such a vote could be swept under the rug, but hopefully today, we have enough people who understand the severity of the problem to push back - to make this vote too expensive to justify.

This was pretty discouraging news.  It was a blow to so many people who believe that genetically engineered food has already come too far, too fast, with too little oversight and find this race to stuff it down our throats without telling us about it is misguided and plain stupid.

"Well it's safe," we are told.  The only source for such assurance of safety are from the manufacturers who have a financial (big financial) stake in this stuff making back some of the millions of dollars they have invested in it.  The biggest player in this market is Monsanto.  You are aware, of course, that Monsanto made PCBs and lied about their safety.  You are aware, as well, that Monsanto created DDT and lied about it's safety.  They were complicit in Agent Orange - and you'll recall their were heinous side effects in that. So this is the company that is saying it's safe.  The US governmental agencies, when they say it's safe and only taking Monsanto (and the rest of them) at their word.  There is no independent US governmental testing here.  I'd like to point out, that even after poisoning the world with DDT and PCBs, Monsanto continued to do business and continued to make money and was not fined or aggressively prosecuted in any of those events. So "it's safe" to Monsanto doesn't mean a thing to us.  ALL those tests we hear about on genetically modified plants were done by scientists, directly or indirectly, on payrolls supplied by the biotech industry.  

And, if you'll allow a digression, in not one of the campaigns for labeling did you hear the anti-labeling forces say any good things about genetically engineered foods.  Their campaigns against labeling were frauds based on some study that said the labeling laws would raise the cost of food by $250 a year - then after the election we find out what we suspected was true - it was a phony think tank, a phony study and they paid the electoral fine for being a liar and walked away with a victory.  In campaigns through out the west, we say state's laws on campaign finance blatantly disregarded and flaunted without a flinch and the fines paid without a whimper as they walked away with another victory.  

You can easily see why one would think Congress was simply bought. Anyone who has taken an objective look at the process of genetically altered food and how it is grown does not think it's a solution to any real problem in the world - in fact, it actively contributes to the problems in the world.  Genetically altered plants, provably, use more water, more pesticides, more fertilizers (both of the latter are dependent on oil), create more groundwater pollution and are horrifically anti-environment (Iowa and other centers of farming will soon be rendered worthless for growing crops because of the abuse of industrial farming and adding in genetically engineered plants is simply "industrial farming on steroids").  

The problem is the whole world cannot be bought.  Our markets abroad will continue to shrink as America imports organic corn from abroad to sustain those of us who will not eat genetically altered food at all and other countries continue to oppose any genetically engineered product for their people.  

More Americans will read labels more closely and labels that simply say "corn, soy or sugar from beets" will not be purchased even if they don't have GMOs because those are the three crops that are mostly on the shelves of our super markets.  We already as a matter of habit avoid all food grown in Hawaii because of that states poor health record on GMOs and pesticide spraying.  

We believe that the only way to be food secure in any region is to be seed secure.  We believe that seeds should never be patented and "owned" by any one - certainly not by a rapacious corporation.  We believe that non-hybrid seeds should be saved by average citizens and these same citizens should be able to protect their seed from infection of genetically altered pollen.  We believe it is immoral to own life - and seeds are alive.  We believe we have to save the seeds that feed us and carry on the tradition of our ancestors in being keepers of the seed and allowing this diversity to persist and be passed on to our children.  

We move on now to fight the DARK act in the Senate.  There is little hope that, despite campaign pledges to the contrary, President Obama will veto this heinous crime of a bill against the American people.  Please contact your senators at once and ask them to please vote no on HR 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act.  

Do it for yourself. Do it for your children.  Do it for the environment.  Do it for all of us.  

david

Monday, June 15, 2015

Shattering: Food Politics and The Loss of Genetic Diversity

I finished reading Shattering:  Food Politics and The Loss of Genetic Diversity early this morning.  It's not a long book, but it took longer to read than most 222 page books, NOT because it was difficult to read or not interesting.  On the contrary, it was extremely interesting...



It was a challenge to read and that wasn't the fault of the authors, but probably because the authors packed a lot of wallop into those 222 pages.  I found myself assured, frightened, enlightened, confused and despondent - and that was typically in the span of two or three pages at a time.  I was so relieved at the hopeful words at the end because I wasn't sure how we were going to end up. I found myself pausing to consider what I had read and the ramifications.  

The word 'shattering' in the title refers to what a head of grain - like wheat or barley, for example - does, scattering seeds to the ground - a useful process for a wild plant.  Human hunter/gatherers came along and harvested the seed heads that did NOT shatter as easily and when domestication of the plants began somewhat later, these were the seeds planted and thus the beginning of the agricultural revolution.

There is much to digest in this book on the seeds of our food plants, but the most clear message of all is we need local control over our seeds and we need back up our diversity to seed banks to help maintain that diversity of food crops and other species that benefit humans as well. There are agencies galore charged with different aspects of the problem but the bottom line becomes much more personal. I have seen Fowler speak twice and each time he urged folks to write their Congresspersons asking for more funding for the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, a US Government project nestled in the mountains near Fort Collins, CO. This book underscores why we need that center and why we need to appropriately fund it.

The diversity of our food plants has been plummeting.  From a plethora of varieties in the early 1900's, we are down to minuscule percentages that leave one aghast that we have squandered so much through simple neglect and corporate willfulness. The losses are a long way from a complete triage so far, especially from third world countries - who are of course, the most vulnerable.  

The story unfolds brilliantly, often with the tension of a novel.  Published in June 1990, I would like to see some updating and see how author Cary thinks we are progressing - some things for the good and for the bad have unfolded.  The most significant is, perhaps, that citizens in the Northern countries are seeing the reason for the alarm Fowler and Mooney raised over 25 years ago.  

In reading Shattering, a helpful ploy I wish I had would be a card handy with which to record which agency is referred to by which set of initials.  Maybe it's my own bad memory, but such a cheat sheet would have been useful especially when they come fast and furious in some sections of the book.  

This book is vital to understand where we are and how we got here and gives strategies for how to move forward - some of which enlightened individuals have begun. 

I am glad I read it and I believe you will be too.  

david  

Saturday, May 30, 2015

This Week LA! Seeds of Time

There's a new documentary out of interest to all who like to eat and especially those of us who like to grow some our food... 

Ostensibly the film is about Cary Fowler and the Svalbard Seed Bank - but what it's really about is our food and the seeds that food comes from.  It doesn't sound all that dramatic, but it is! 



In the past, I have been vocal about the difference between seed libraries and seed banks and I was vocally critical of seed banks.  I felt the only "real" way to save seeds was to cultivate them - grow them, and use them.  Keeping seeds in frozen storage has its downsides and I was well focused on that as well as the fact that I only knew of seed banks were owned by governments and tended to have a top down focus.  Seed libraries, on the other hand, are bottom up and tend to be community efforts without a lot of money and dependent on volunteers.  I was definitely pro-library and anti-bank.   

My attitude has matured.  Only recently did I reconcile with the idea of seed banks when it became apparent that the Seed Library Of Los Angeles was going to eventually need a seed bank to back up our work.  That realization hit when it became clear to me that ANY physical location has the chance to be compromised.  Our Venice location, for example could be wiped out by a fire (the building is very old and a fire is not out of the question  - or a tidal wave or the vagaries of the Los Angeles Unified School District.  We need some place when all else fails, doesn't.

Little did I realize that Svalbard could well be it.  Svalbard, created from the original idea of Cary Fowler, is located above the Arctic Circle on the island called Svalbard and run under the auspices of the Norwegian government.  It is wholly funded by the Norwegian government, unlike the information one can find on the internet.  The seeds are held in storage as a backup for the people who sent them there, should there be a disaster that causes the loss of the seeds in their gardens and farms.  



Seeds are prepared by, say, SLOLA, placed in a container and sent, with an inventory to Svalbard.  There these seeds are checked in and place in the vaults.  The only folks who can ask for the seeds to be removed from Svalbard would be SLOLA in response to a disaster befalling the libraries inventory.  

This is not a dry movie.  It moves with elegance and purpose.  There is barely a dry eye in the house when the Filipino woman has to say what has happened to the seeds they had gathered to ship to Svalbard.  When you watch this film with the awareness of our seeds and the importance of them, you will be moved as well.  

And now we see clearly that we need both and this is one of the most ambitious seed banks in the world.  The possibility that we will desperately need the seeds that are stored in Svalbard grows more and more unavoidable as politicians play blithe games with the reality of global climate change.

The movie is showing tonight, tomorrow (I'll be there as the Q and A guy on Sunday) and and on into next week.  It is worth your while and you will learn a lot more about our food, our seeds, seed banks and Svalbard.  Most of all though, you'll meet Cary Fowler, author of  Shattering: Food, Politics, and the Loss of Genetic Diversity as well as other books. Compassionate, inspired, passionate and informed, Fowler is a thoroughly lovable and charming subject.  The movie making is top notch and I encourage everyone who likes food and enjoys eating! 

david

Thursday, April 2, 2015

SAVE SEED SHARING!



After Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture adopted a policy restricting the Simpson Seed Library in Mechanicsburg, PA from sharing locally saved seed, several states have followed suit, threatening the continued existence of seed libraries. Seed laws exist to regulate entities that sell or commercially exchange seeds. A seed library is a noncommercial nonprofit, cooperative, or governmental organization that donates seed and receives donations of seed, especially by encouraging members to learn about seed saving and donate seeds to the library. Donation of seed is not required in a seed library, so the sharing of seeds does not even rise to the level of barter or exchange, let alone sell. Seed libraries are far different in nature and scale than commercial seed companies and need to be appropriately recognized under the law to protect their ability to continue freely sharing seeds in communities across the country.

This petition seeks to legalize seed sharing and prevent more seed libraries for being busted.  Join with other SLOLA members to keep the seed free!  


david

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Blow to Seed Security and Seed Libraries



Our friends from Seed Freedom LA gathering for our first
press conference/rally in 2013

Only a few days from our rebuff at the Los Angeles City Council, a few interesting facts come to the surface that make the story a whole lot more 'interesting,' as in "may you live in interesting times" supposedly an old Chinese curse.  As I begin to write this, I cannot even title it.  I have smoke coming out of my ears and as I realize that Seed Freedom LA was defeated as a part of a much more broad campaign to take seeds from the hands of individual citizens and concentrate our food growing in the clutches of agri-business. 

I wish to introduce you to an essay by Britt Bailey who introduces a new twist to thickening plot on the Environmental Commons page.  I'd like you to go that page and read the whole essay, it covers more than I want to get into right here, but it shows that California's AB 2470, passed in our last legislative session, is part of a national trend where many state legislatures have passed bills so similar that the wordings are almost identical. In all cases they ban municipalities in that state from enacting laws that govern seeds.  
These states include Pennsylvania, Iowa, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Georgia, Oklahoma, Florida, Indiana, Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, West Virginia, Ohio, Kansas, and California.

And just to fluff out our lesson on seed sovereignty being under attack, I include here a link to California's AB 2470.  Just read it and absorb the power grab this bill holds!  It literally sets in place for the Secretary of Agriculture to create lists of plants that shall be grown in California as well as other equally heinous provisions.  

The secretary, by regulation, may adopt all of the following:
(a) A list of the plants and crops that the secretary finds are or may be grown in this state.
Of course today, it looks rather innocuous and dull, but I find this concept a disturbing possibility, especially if it is only one of many laws throughout the nation.  This could effectively mean the loss of all our heirloom crops; the secretary might mandate only GMO crops be grown, it just doesn't pass the smell test.

If we are to have a sane seed (food) policy, this law must go and in it's place a law that makes seed libraries a part of a public policy against the loss of seed sovereignty and creates the legal framework for us to continue our work in making sure our world is seed and food secure.

david


 





Monday, December 15, 2014

Like a New Year's Resolution: A Target!


Burgandy Okra Seeds - "On the hoof" 


A year ago I drew up a list of seeds I thought would be the ones to save – I asked around for others to suggest varieties that I might have missed, but there haven't been a lot of responses.

I was explaining to someone the other day that SLOLA has something like 200 varieties of vegetables in our bank and how I would rather have fewer varieties with larger quantities of each. He suggested that I was postulating the same lack of diversity I decry in the world of seed today.

After thinking about it for a couple of days, I think I have an answer to that accusation: It is better to save a fewer varieties of seed and save them well than to have hundreds of different varieties and save them poorly. I would like SLOLA to save all the seeds that will grow here successfully, but that could easily be more seeds than SLOLA can handle at present.

It is more important that we start where we are (we can't really start somewhere else, can we?) and begin to learn how to save seeds of several major varieties and have them on hand. At present, there aren't that many members who are experienced at growing out to seed. Those who can reliably grow plants out to seed need to apply themselves to growing out the difficult seeds and grow enough out to insure a supply on hand for the rest of our members.

Last year, compiling my list of seeds to save, I was heading east on I-70 through Illinois into Indiana ending up at Ft. Wayne to celebrate Christmas. I was in the back of a car with my little Netbook and using a Blackberry to be online. This year, I'm at home and surrounded by seed catalogs, including the two most often cited as 'veggie porn' catalogs (Seed Savers' Exchange and Baker Creek Heirlooms) and was able to use their listings to create the following list of seeds to save.

In compiling this list, I have relied a lot on my own experience with these different varieties and have selected those first. In addition, I have sought diversity of plants (not all early, but some early, some mid-season and some late, where the varieties allowed that). I also looked for performance in many different criteria – including, hardiness, production, flavor, uniqueness as well as historical significance and, in a few cases, we have varieties to save because they are a family heirloom that might be lost if we don't save them.

Some types of plants have many varieties to save and some just a few. Limiting factors could be 1.) lack of varieties; 2.) lack of varieties that do well in Southern Califonia; 3.) I am not familiar with many varieties and so choose to not make a decision (eggplant is an example) and 4.) one or two varieties are considered sufficient to supply the need. For example, in the case of cilantro, there are several (not many) named varieties on the market, but having grown all the cilantros I've found, the differences are negligible and so I simply list cilantro without any varieties. Slo-Bolt bolted faster for me than the cilantro have self seeding in my garden.

Here's the number one reason to share this: we seed savers in SLOLA need to hear from everyone who has suggestions for varieties of veggies to save. The Seed Savers Of Los Angeles need to build a list of seeds to save – a 'target' for us to shoot for. Email us via the blog or bring your list to any SLOLA meeting – I’ll be willing to add your suggestions to my list. Let's see if we can double this in the coming year!

This is a work in progress! OUR work!

Varieties of Vegetable Seeds I Believe We* Should Save

Artichokes




Green Globe
Violetto


Beans (nominally
Phaseolus vulgaris)



Aquadulce (Fava)
Broad Windsor (Fava)
Cannelini Bush Bean (Dry/Bush)
Christmas (Lima/Climbing)
Envy (Soybean)
Golden Wax Bean (Wax/Bush)
Henderson (Lima/Bush)
Hutterite Soup
Pencil Pod (Wax/Bush)
Pineschi Family Bean (Vigna unguiculata)
Royal Burgundy Bean (Purple/Early)
Scarlet Runner (Phaseolus coccineus)
Beets


Bull's Blood
Crosby's Egyptian
Burpee's Golden
Chioggia
Detroit Dark Red
Yellow Cylindrical
Broccoli


DiCicco
Nutribud
Romanesco
Brussels Sprouts


Long Island Improved
Cabbage


Copenhagen Market Cabbage
Early Jersey Wakefield
Glory of Einkhuizan
Mammoth Red Rock
Perfection Drumhead Savoy
Premium Late Flat Dutch
Winningstadt
Carrot


Scarlet Nantes Carrot
Chantenay Red Core
Danvers Half Long
White Belgian
Cauliflower


Early Snowball
Chard


Five Color Silverbeet Chard (AKA Rainbow Chard)
Fordhook Giant
Celery and Celeriac


Giant Prague (Celeriac)
Utah Tall (Celery)
Corn


Black Azte,
Country Gentleman Corn
Golden Bantam Corn
Oaxacan Green Dent
Stowells Evergreen
Corn (Popcorn)


Strawberry
Cucumber


Armenian
Eggplant



Grains (except corn and wheat)


Flax
Quinoa, Shelly 25 Black
Sesame, Light Seeded


Kale
Blue Curled Scotch
Lacinato
Leek
Blue Solaise
Carentan
King Richard
Lettuce




lBack Seeded Simpson
Brune d'Hiver
Cimmaron
Drunken Woman Frizzy Head
Forellenschluss
Merlot
Merveille des Quatre Saison
Parris Island Cos
Red Romaine
Rouge d'Hiver
Rouge Grenobloise
Summertime
Tango
Tom Thumb
Webbs Wonderful
Yugoslavian Red
Melons



Charentais
Green Nutmeg
Hale's Best
Metki White Serpent (cucumber)
Tigger
Okra




Burgundy
Clemson Spineless
Don't Knowcra
Star of David
Onion




Iitoy
Red of Florence
Parsnip




Harris Model
Peas
Alaska
Lincoln
Little Marvel
Tall Telephone
Oregon Sugar Pod
Sugar Snap
Pepper
Anaheim
Corno di Toro
Fish
Italian Pepperoncini
Jalapeno Early
Jimmy Nardello Italian
Red Marconi
Squash – Summer
Lebanese White Bush Marrow
Zucchini – Lungo Bianco
Squash - Winter




Black Futsu
Chersonskaya
Delicata
Marina di Chioggia
Queensland Blue Squash
Sweet Meat
Tomato




Amish Paste
Big Rainbow
Black Cherry
Black From Tula
Black Icicle
Cherokee Purple
Copia
Cream Sausage
Federle
Flammé
Orange Banana
Orange Icicle
Roman Candle
Rutgers
San Marzano
San Remo
Striped Roman
Thessaloniki
Wapsipinicon Peach
Turnip




Purple Top White Globe
Wheat




Federation 126
Perennial Wheat
Sonoran White


david




*“We” being the Seed Library of Los Angeles