Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Protect Your Home Garden from New GMO Threats

Genetically engineered crops set for release in the next few years could decimate garden tomatoes.

The recent barrage of approvals allowing genetically engineered ingredients to infiltrate our coffee, milk, ice cream, and even apple pie is enough to persuade some health-conscious consumers to rip out the front lawn and start producing their own food free of genetically manipulated ingredients. Knowing where your food comes from is certainly key in avoiding GMOs, since you can't rely on labeling of GMO-containing food products—there are no laws requiring it. (GMOs and chemical pesticides are banned in certified-organic food, however.) While taking a spade or tiller to your front yard and replacing non-nourishing turf with healthy organic edibles is a great way to save money and feed your family fresh produce bursting with anti-cancer compounds, two new GMOs down the pike threaten the very queen of home gardens—tomatoes—among other backyard garden favorites.

Most genetically engineered crops have been genetically manipulated to withstand heavy sprayings of herbicides, particularly the chemical glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. The company that sells the GMO seeds also sells the chemical it's designed to withstand. Farmers are prohibited from saving seeds containing these genes, something that could occur through cross-pollination. Researchers are turning up startling health problems associated with Roundup. Not only that, it's turning out to be a bad deal for farmers, too. In just 10 years, at least 16 weed species have grown resistant to Roundup. They're referred to as superweeds, and Monsanto is actually paying farmers to use its competitors' pesticides because Roundup is losing its weed-killing ability. To remedy the superweed problem, Monsanto is inserting another gene that would make soy also resistant to the herbicide dicamba, a developmental toxin. Dow Agrosciences is hoping to introduce its 2,4-D–tolerant corn and soy. (2,4-D has been classified as a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the European Union classifies it as an endocrine disruptor.)

In the '90s, researchers hailed GMOs as a way to reduce pesticide use, but instead, pesticide use is on the rise since GMO corn, soy, canola, and cotton have been widely implemented. Researchers predict that adding crops that are genetically engineered to resist dicamba and 2,4-D will add millions more pounds of toxic pesticides into the food chain and the environment. "This advance in molecular biology that will result in new traits being introduced into the crop will increase, ironically, herbicide use," explains David Mortensen, PhD, a veteran weed ecologist at Penn State University. "And not subtly. We're estimating something in the order of a 60- to 100-percent increase in the amount of herbicides applied if these crops with these added genes were to become commercialized.

"The good news, in my view, is that we have several years to react and think about this more carefully," Mortensen adds. These crops aren't anticipated to hit the market until 2013 or 2014.


Dicamba and 2,4-D are among the oldest pesticides, but allowing farmers to grow new crops genetically engineered to withstand them, Mortensen's models predict, will result in the doubling of chemicals used in fields. "These are herbicides that are very, very active," says Mortensen, who was invited to testify before Congress regarding the issue of superweeds last summer. "They're growth-regulator herbicides that also have a bad habit of not staying put when you apply them in the field. They move out of the fields by physical or also vapor or gaseous drift."

That means they'll also take out crucial plants in field border areas. These borders serve as critical habitat for wild bee populations that are countering the decline of colony collapse disorder that's taking down commercial bees. The borders also draw in beneficial bugs (biocontrol agents) that have been shown to repress certain pest problems by 50 percent. "These chemicals are really active on many of our most important vegetable crops," Mortensen explains. If they don't outright kill tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, peas, and beans, they could cause severe twisting in the plant and deformed fruit. The chemicals also damage vineyard and table grapes. Pesticide drift reports have found that these volatile chemicals can travel and damage crops nearly a half mile away from the application point. "The potential for this to drift into these plants, whether it's someone's vegetable garden or farm, is a big concern," Mortensen says, who notes that cultural practices, such as the planting of cover crops, occasional tillage, and the addition of just one more crop to the rotation, could keep weeds under control without turning to chemicals and new GMOs.

Here's how you can create a market that says no to new GMOs.

• Demand a GMO-free aisle. Hundreds of thousands of concerned U.S. citizens have asked the government to reverse recently approved GMOs (alfalfa, sugar beets). But unless legal action blocks upcoming plantings, home gardeners near sugar beet farms face the risk of growing table beets contaminated by GMO sugar beets. If you're frustrated with the government's recent coziness with biotech and chemical companies (despite first lady Michelle Obama's organic vegetable garden!), start talking to your grocery store managers and ask them offer a GMO-free aisle. In recent surveys, most consumers say they don't want to eat GMOs. Consumer demand for non-GMO products could tip the balance and make it unprofitable for farmers to use GMO seeds. Farmers will grow what people are willing to eat.

• Talk to big food companies and restaurant chains. Aside from asking your grocery store for a GMO-free aisle, call large food companies and dairies and tell them you won't buy their products if they source ingredients grown from GMO seeds.

SOURCE: Rodale