Blog | May 31, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniWhile no genetically engineered (GE) wheat is currently approved in any country, GE wheat was found growing in a field in Oregon this week. Monsanto produced the wheat so it would be resistant to its own Roundup herbicide but abandoned the project in 2005 before the wheat was commercially approved due to lack of interest in the market for GE wheat. Authorities are still unsure if the wheat made it to the food supply, but the lapse could impact grain exports. In 2012, US production made up over half of the global wheat supply, and 90 percent of the wheat grown in Oregon is exported. Countries such as Japan and Mexico that import large amounts of US wheat, were notified of the situation. The wheat was tested after the farmer attempted to kill the plants with Roundup, but a small portion of the crop did not die. The farmer brought samples of the plants to be tested through Oregon State University, which discovered the Roundup-resistant gene.

The Non-GMO Project is teaming up with US Department of Agriculture in an effort to determine the scope of the contamination through a “surveillance testing strategy,” as well as why it occurred. Wheat products retailed nationally will be tested, in addition to Oregon plant samples. With over 60 countries now mandating GMO labeling, testing has already begun with hopes of swiftly grasping the extent of the situation before sales, both domestic and foreign, are too gravely impacted.

In 2003, Monsanto commercially launched a new genetically engineered corn, Bt corn, which was resistant to rootworm. The Bt corn was marketed as allowing farmers to decrease pesticide use. A mere ten years later, American cornfields are filled with the GE corn and, now, increasing amounts of pesticides as rootworms quickly developed resistance to Bt corn. Aware of rootworms increasing resistance to the strain of corn, Monsanto announced the company plans to phase out Bt corn to manufacture seeds with a different type of rootworm resistance. Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency say that the rootworm will continue to adjust and, in turn, gain immunity once more. Many corporations, such as American Vanguard, have jumped at the opportunity to invest in insecticide companies over the past decade in anticipation of increased immunity to GE crops by pests such as rootworm.

These discoveries come just days after hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in 436 cities in 52 different countries in what became known as the March Against Monsanto on May 25. The event began when Tami Canal created a Facebook page in February declaring the need for a rally against the company’s methods, though she had no idea the event would reach such a great magnitude. Considering the event a success, those involved plan to continue efforts against GMO products until Monsanto concedes to demand and changes its current practices. The rally came amidst a Senate vote that opted overwhelmingly against mandatory GMO-labeling. The grocery chain Whole Foods recently found a 15 to 30 percent sharp increase in sales of products with a non-GMO verified label, representing the public desire to know.

A new study published in Neurology found that exposure to pesticides or commercial weed killers increases a person’s risk of Parkinson’s disease by 33 to 80 percent. The study directly linked the length of time a person was exposed to the chemicals to the probability that person would develop the disease. The research behind the study compiled information on a global scale from 104 different studies investigating individual risk compared to exposure to various chemicals used in agriculture. Surprisingly, results yielded no link between DDT, a dangerous pesticide already banned in the US, and Parkinson’s disease. Rather, those exposed to the weed killer paraquat or the fungicides maneb or mancozeb were twice as likely to contract the disease. Though the study showed no differentiation between direct contact versus inhalation of the chemicals, results showed workers in agriculture were 33 percent more likely to develop Parkinson’s when compared to non-agricultural workers.

Just as we tip into the summer months typically embellished by burgers and barbeques, beef prices are on the rise as a result of the 2012 drought. The drought that plagued the Midwest has left the US cattle herd the smallest it’s been in about 60 years, falling to less than 90 million head. Prices for commercially sold beef already hit an all-time high last week and that expected to continue to increase. Prices of choice-grade beef, the most commonly purchased type, reached a retail price of $2.1137 per pound on May 24, surpassing the record-high price that was set in 2003 during an outbreak of mad-cow disease in Canada. Though sales of US beef climbed by nearly 5 percent in 2012, overall production declined. Some beef retailers are concerned consumers will switch to different types of meat, while others are hopeful demand will remain constant through the summer months.

By the end of last year, the United States imported 4.1 billion pounds of food products from China, according to the Agriculture Department. And it seems China plans to expand its reach into the food system, with the announced purchase of Smithfield Foods, one of the biggest and oldest pork producers in the United States, by one of China’s largest meat processors. What will it mean for the U.S.? Here’s what the National Farmers Union has to say to answer that question: “Consolidation in agricultural markets makes it easier for interests in other countries to control large portions of our food supply. Further study and understanding of concentration of markets is needed, along with enhanced enforcement of anti-trust laws. Independent family farmers and ranchers cannot succeed in the absence of protection from unfair, anti-competitive business practices by those who control the marketplace.”

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