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Tagged with GMOs

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GMO potatoes: Is the biodiversity shortcut worth it?

A protest against GMO potatoes. (Photo by BASFPlantScience.)

Last week’s announcement that Ireland’s environmental protection agency approved the nation’s first trial of the genetically modified potato has reactivated the conversation about the spuds, which have actually been kicking around Europe -- on a trial basis -- since 2010.

Potatoes are an industrial crop; we grow nearly as many of them worldwide as we do corn, soy, wheat, and sugar, and those industries all rely heavily on genetic engineering. And -- like corn, sugar, and soy -- potato starch is now often valued for its indirect uses, such as in animal feed and biofuel. So it’s not surprising that industry forces would be pushing for giant swaths of industrial-starch-producing GMO potatoes. But to do so in Ireland would involve a unique historical irony.

You see, it just so happens that the Irish potato famine of the 19th century is held up as one of the most striking examples of the way monocrops -- those grown with little or no genetic diversity -- are vulnerable to disease. Heralded as a miracle when it arrived from South America in the 1800s, the potato produced more calories per acre than wheat and corn, and virtually did away with the mass-scale hunger many European countries were facing at the time. (Some say it was the potato that made European nations into world superpowers, and its cultivation also marked the beginning of today’s industrial agriculture model.)

Read more: Food

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GMO sugar beets get the green light

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ruled once and for all to allow unrestricted planting of Monsanto’s GMO sugar beets. This announcement puts an end to a long court battle to force the USDA to uphold the law -- a battle that some anti-GMO advocates might call Pyrrhic.

We covered the GMO sugar fracas extensively last month, but here’s a quickie review: The USDA was forced to perform a court-ordered environmental review of the GMO sugar beet seed and to restrict planting by farmers until the review was finished. As it happens, this was a review that the USDA had failed to complete back in 2008 when it had allowed farmers to begin using the seed. This failure was in violation of law and was the grounds for the court’s intervention after several consumer groups filed suit. And though the agency flouted a court-ordered halt to planting out of concern about a sugar shortage, they did ultimately comply with the judge’s order to finish a full review.

The ruling came out of the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the division in charge of regulating genetically modified food. And, as if to stress the fact that the process is complete and GMO sugar beets are totally in the clear, the USDA declared in the announcement that “this is APHIS’ final regulatory determination in this matter.” So back off, people!

The review was released last month so there was little that was surprising in the final announcement. But the language that APHIS used this week explains a lot about federal policy on GMOs. As the agency put it:

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Vandana Shiva talks with Bill Moyers about the food system [VIDEO]

In this episode of Moyers & Company, Vandana Shiva talks about genetically engineered seeds, subsidies for industrial agriculture, the dramatic rise in the number of American farmers markets, and much more.

Update: The preview clip was replaced by the complete interview on July 16, 2012.

Read more: Food

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‘Monsanto Protection Act’ would keep GMO crops in the ground during legal battles

It's that exciting time of the year again when the Senate and House Appropriations Committees get together to hash out the annual agriculture budget. I know, right? Really fun stuff.

This year, in addition to the usual underfunding of legislation that could make the food system more sustainable, the appropriations process has become especially charged, thanks to a one-paragraph addition called the “farmer assurance provision.” The provision -- which the agriculture committee approved last week, but has yet to go to the full House -- would allow farmers to plant and grow GMO crops before they’ve been deemed safe. Or, more accurately, if it passes, farmers will be able to plant these crops while legal battles ensue over their safety.

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Heritage wheat could let gluten-sensitive people eat bread again

One of my greatest fears in life is that I'll find out I'm gluten-intolerant, because there is almost nothing I love to eat more than really good bread. (I know that there is bread made with non-wheat flour, but … it's just not the same.) But it turns out, according to Pacific Standard, that there's a strain of heritage wheat that even gluten-sensitive people might be able to digest. It's nutty-tasting, and it has an excellent name: "einkorn,” which I'm going to roughly translate as The One True Grain.

Einkorn was apparently the first cultivated wheat, and it has an different gluten structure -- one that's easier to digest -- than most of the wheat we eat today.

Read more: Food

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Why GMOs aren’t romantic

Today's Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is a VERY REALISTIC AND SCIENTIFICALLY ACCURATE cautionary tale about genetically modified organisms.

Read more: Scary Food

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Feds to farmers: Grow GMO beets or face sugar shortage

If you’re Monsanto, you’re probably really proud of your genetically modified (GMO) sugar beets. Introduced in 2008, the beets are the company’s most recent Roundup Ready product genetically engineered to withstand the direct application of the herbicide glyphosate. Immediately successful, they took over the sugar beet market within two years. By 2010, 95 percent of the sugar beets grown in the U.S. were Monsanto’s genetically modified variety.

This matters to us all because about 50 percent of white sugar sold here is made from sugar beets. In other words, unless that bag of sugar you just bought is labeled “Certified Organic” or “100 percent cane sugar,” it almost certainly contains sugar made from GMO crops.

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Faked Alaska: Is genetically modified salmon coming soon to a table near you?

After six months of relative media silence, GMO salmon are back. Since last fall, AquaBounty Technologies, the breeders of the fish -- which is not to be confused with radioactive tuna -- have been in a kind of regulatory limbo, awaiting approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Then this week, several GMO salmon stories popped up in the media, and, taken together, they suggest it might be time to take another look at the salmon, which would be the first genetically engineered animal raised for commercial consumption if it’s approved.

The fish, which is branded AquAdvantage, has been altered with a growth-hormone gene from a Chinook salmon and a gene from a deepwater eel-like fish called an ocean pout. The latter allows the fish to grow during the cold months and reach market size twice as fast as other salmon.

A short article on Seafood Source reported that although AquaBounty continues to hemorrhage money (they reported a net loss of $2.7 million in 2011), CEO Ron Stotish is confident that approval is right around the corner.

Read more: Animals, Food, Scary Food

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Monsanto WISHES it could make corn this cool

"Glass Gem" corn looks almost CGI, but it actually comes out of the ground that way. It's the product of a small farm and a retro, handcrafted approach to agriculture -- "genetic modification" from back when genetic modification meant painstaking generations of selective breeding.

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‘Bitter Seeds’ documentary reveals tragic toll of GMOs in India

When home-front battles over GMO labeling, beekeeping, and the Farm Bill get heated, we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that Big Ag’s influence extends far beyond our own borders. Micha Peled’s documentary Bitter Seeds is a stark reminder of that fact. The final film in Peled’s “globalization trilogy,” Bitter Seeds exposes the havoc Monsanto has wreaked on rural farming communities in India, and serves as a fierce rebuttal to the claim that genetically modified seeds can save the developing world.

The film follows a plucky 18-year-old girl named Manjusha, whose father was one of the quarter-million farmers who have committed suicide in India in the last 16 years. As Grist and others have reported, the motivations for these suicides follow a familiar pattern: Farmers become trapped in a cycle of debt trying to make a living growing Monsanto’s genetically engineered Bt cotton. They always live close to the edge, but one season’s ruined crop can dash hopes of ever paying back their loans, much less enabling their families to get ahead. Manjusha’s father, like many other suicide victims, killed himself by drinking the pesticide he spreads on his crops.