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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

GMO corn and alfalfa coming our way, ready or not

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced February 11 it would deregulate industrial corn that is genetically engineered for ethanol production, saying the crop does not pose a plant risk.

Syngenta Seeds, which developed the corn, said its Enogen seed would be available by 2012 for large scale commercial planting under contracted, closed production. The corn is genetically engineered to produce an enzyme that speeds the breakdown of starch into sugar, which would increase efficiency in making the biofuel.

Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety wrote on his group's website, "Syngenta's biofuels corn will inevitably contaminate food-grade corn, and could well trigger substantial rejection in our corn export markets, hurting farmers."

"The USDA's decision defies common sense," said Margaret Mellon, director of Union of Concerned Scientists's Food and Environment Program. "There is no way to protect food corn crops from contamination by ethanol corn. Even with the most stringent precautions, the wind will blow and standards will slip. In this case, there are no required precautions."

Food processors are also concerned about the cost of monitoring their corn supplies for contamination, Mellon noted. Syngenta acknowledges that processors will have to test food supply corn, forcing millers to cover that cost. Syngenta Seeds maintains the corn will reduce the amount of water, energy and chemicals used to make ethanol; a third of all corn grown in the U.S. already goes to ethanol production. David Morgan, president of Syngenta Seeds, said in a statement, "The adoption of Enogen grain by U.S. ethanol producers can unleash a cascade of efficiency and environmental benefits industrywide."

The Center for Food Safety argued that "it is irresponsible to engineer corn for fuel use at a time when massive diversion of corn to ethanol has played a significant role in raising food prices and thus exacerbating world hunger." 

Last month, the USDA ruled that it will allow unlimited, unrestricted, nation-wide commercial planting of Monsanto’s genetically-engineered Roundup Ready alfalfa. For the past four years, there had been a ban on the planting and sale of GM alfalfa, as a result of a lawsuit brought by the Center for Food Safety on behalf of farmers. The fear is that the GM crop will likely destroy organic alfalfa because the crop is so invasive and its seeds are so easily spread by the wind. Organic alfalfa is essential for organic meat production.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said GM alfalfa and non-GM alfalfa should be able to co-exist.

"This is very disappointing," said Will Fantle, co-director of the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute, an organic and small-farm watchdog group that is a plaintiff in a lawsuit brought against the USDA claiming that it did not take the required legal steps before originally approving GM alfalfa in 2007. "Tens of thousands of people spoke out against this contamination," Fantle said. "They were completely ignored. It looks like the biotech industry has all the political power."

Dr. Grout’s comment:

The USDA’s ruling on alfalfa means that farmers are free to plant GM alfalfa, and the USDA will not be keeping track of who plants it where. There will be no tracking, no notification system, and no responsibility on the part of Monsanto for any business that is lost as a result of genetic contamination.

Alfalfa is the main forage crop for dairy cows and one of the principle foods for beef cows, especially grass-fed cattle. Alfalfa is a perennial, easily lasting five years once planted. And it's bee-pollinated, which means every non-GM alfalfa plant within five miles of every GM alfalfa plant may be contaminated by GM pollen carried by bees.

According to sustainable food systems advocate and author Michael Pollan, "93 percent of alfalfa hay is grown without any herbicide at all", which means that the GM alfalfa seed developed by Monsanto in order to resist its Roundup herbicide "is a bad solution to a problem that doesn't exist."

In an article at TruthOut, reporter Mike Ludwig noted that House Committee on Agriculture members pressed Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to fully deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa and reject the proposal to geographically isolate it from traditional alfalfa. Frank Lucas (R-OK) was elected chairman of the Agriculture Committee in December. Monsanto was one of the top contributors to Lucas’s campaign committee in 2010. A political action committee and individuals associated with Monsanto donated $11,000 to his campaign last year, and Lucas has received $1,247,844 from the agribusiness industry during his political career, according to watchdog site

No wonder the average person feels left out of decisions about genetically modified food and unheard. 

Can public pressure make a difference? The Alliance for Natural Health wants “to blanket Congress with protests, asking senators and representatives and oversight committees to review the deregulation decision” and is circulating a petition.

School lunches are an obesity risk

A study of more than 1,000 sixth graders in several schools in southeastern Michigan found that those who regularly had the school lunch were 29 percent more likely to be obese than those who brought lunch from home.

Spending two or more hours a day watching television or playing video games also increased the risk of obesity, but by only 19 percent.

“Most school lunches rely heavily on high-energy, low-nutrient-value food, because it’s cheaper,” said Dr. Kim A. Eagle, director of the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center, and senior author of the paper, published in the December issue of the American Heart Journal. In some schools where the study was done, lunch programs offered specials like “Tater Tot Day,” he said.

The study concluded that obesity is present in 15% of our sixth graders and is associated with major differences in cardiovascular risk factors. Opportunities to improve childhood health should emphasize programs that increase physical activity, reduce recreational screen time, and improve nutritional value of school lunches.

Under a federal law passed in December, Department of Agriculture guidelines will limit the number of calories served at every school meal and require programs to offer a broad variety of fruits and vegetables — not just corn and potatoes.

Dr. Grout’s comment:

The results of this study are pretty consistent with what the adults are eating – fat on fat on salt on fat. According to a chef friend of mine, Greg Christian, who ran an organic school lunch program in Chicago for a few years, the children will almost certainly need to re-educate their taste buds. Before the 3rd grade, he found that the kids were eager to try almost anything. After 3rd grade they seem to have lost the ability of taste foods that are not heavily salted and sugared. They have to try new foods many times before developing a taste for them because their taste buds have become so habituated to sugar and salt that nothing else tastes good to them – everything else is bland.

Do you think this might possibly have something to do with the inclusion of Monosodium Glutamate in almost every food manufactured? That is, after all, the function of MSG – a flavor “enhancer.”  

The use of MSG allows companies to reduce the amount of real ingredients in their foods, such as chicken in chicken soup. In the 1960s, it was discovered that large amounts of MSG fed to infant mice destroyed nerve cells in the brain. After that research was publicized, public pressure forced baby-food companies to stop adding MSG to their products (it was used to make the foods taste better to parents).

According to Dr. Russell Blaylock, an author and neurosurgeon, there is a link between sudden cardiac death, particularly in athletes, and excitotoxic damage caused by food additives like MSG and artificial sweeteners. MSG is an excitotoxin, and according to Dr. Blaylock, can cause sensitive neurons in the brain to die.