Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Pesticide Fear Mongering continues on social media

Two headlines are traveling the social media circuit recently that continue to use non-scientific evaluations of pesticide use to try to shape the cultural myth that pesticides are inherently bad for everyone. The first one is the continued publication by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) of their so called Dirty Dozen list, a list that supposedly warns consumers of the produce with the highest pesticide residues. This list has been debunked by peer reviewed analysis to show that the methodology they use to rank the selected produce has no scientific backing. Even the very report the EWG says it uses to generate the data for their list, the USDA Pesticide Data Program (PDP,) states that the “… summary shows that, overall, pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and do not pose risk to consumers’ health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded that pesticide resi220px-Warning2Pesticidesdues pose no risk of concern for infants and children.” Nutritional experts continue to say that increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetable decreases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. This includes a recent study titled UCL study finds new evidence linking fruit and vegetable consumption with lower mortality. Studies have shown that conventional and organic produce have the same healthy outcomes for consumers. Why does the EWG continue to scare consumers away from healthy food choices? Because it fits the narrative they want to promote. They do not seem to care that studies are finding that their scare tactic are doing more harm than good, especially for low income shoppers who have far few food choices than other income groups.

The second is an article titled “UN experts denounce ‘myth’- pesticides are necessary to feed the world” published by The Guardian and picked up by a number of anti-pesticide activist sites. This report is yet another “white paper” put out as a UN source that is nothing more than an opinion piece. It doesn’t even quote or review any of the official UN FAO or scientific literature from any UN committees. It continues in the same way as the EWG piece, to come to a conclusion first and work backwards, using cherry picked peer reviewed studies, to find information to justify the headline. In his evaluation of the article, David Zaruk, an EU science communication specialists writes “The “Pesticides are a myth” report has no authors and was submitted in the name of a rapporteur who has no experience in agriculture. And the Guardian published an article without any interest in analyzing its foundations or sources – just quotes the “UN report”. It doesn’t look at the FAO or basic science.” Lumping all pesticides and all farming types into a story trying to say that the benefits of pesticides are a “myth” just doesn’t explore in depth the vast literature available that is contrary to the thesis of the article. The article even draws conclusions that are contrary to the sources it cites. “It is a myth,” said Hilal Elver, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food. “Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), we are able to feed 9 billion people today. Production is definitely increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution.”
In a Facebook discussion digging into the articles references one commenter says, “Production is increasing because pesticides have enabled it. Their references don’t back their claims.” He then goes on to detail the conflicts in many of the cited reference and what the article is saying.

Fear of pesticides has been around a long time. Even before Racheal Carson’s “Silent Spring” people were questioning their wide spread use in farming. But questioning their use and using science to find out what the problems were and how to fix them has only strengthened the crop protection industry. Now trained professionals with expertise in Integrated Pest Management have the tools to carefully evaluate and choose the right crop protection product needed and have the information to evaluate and mediate health and environmental concerns. That knowledge is growing all the time. ‘Of course, there are always risks associated with using such chemicals, but the answer is to heavily regulate the industry and increase transparency, not to ban their use. The scientific evidence time and again demonstrates the benefits for using pesticides far outweighs the risks.’ – Professor Kathleen Lewis, Professor of Agricultural Chemistry at University of Hertfordshire’s Department of Human and Environmental Sciences (HES) and Research Leader for the Agriculture and Environment Research Unit (AERU). Crop protection tools are getting better all the time. They are becoming more environmentally friendly and safer for workers. New technologies are developing products that are more selective, targeting the pest and leaving other flora and fauna in our fields intact.

It is important for those in the agricultural industry to speak up and tell the truth about pesticides and their use so that the continued mantra of the “evil pesticide” is not the narrative that sticks in the minds of our consumers. People are susceptible to fear on topics they know very little about. Those of us that have the expertise on these matters should keep ourselves informed and be willing to engage people in conversations that will help educate and ease people’s fears. Acknowledge the reality of their fears and do not use scorn to put them down as that only further entrenches them in their position. Once you understand why they have the fears they do you can then empathize and tailor your response in a why they will be more accepting to the information.

Further reading:

Is Conventional Produce Dirty? No, But the Marketing Tactics Of Big Organic Are

Anti-Ag U.N. Report Written by Attorneys Argues for Big Ag

3 Reasons The EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” Is Still a Dirty Lie

The Perils of Anti-Pesticide Hysteria

For the Benefit of Consumers, It’s Time to Promote Positive, Reassuring Information

No, The UN Did Not Dismiss Pesticides as Unnecessary

Why Keep the E.P.A?

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On February 3, 2017 Rep. Matt Gaetz [R-FL-1] introduced a bill titled H.R.861 – To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency. There are certainly plenty of people, mainly business owners and some farmers, who are pretty fed up with the layers and layers of regulations and associated paperwork that keeps them from doing the work they want to be doing. Many farmers see some of the EPA’s regulation as vastly overreaching to the point of threatening to put them out of business. Rep. Gaetz wrote in a letter to colleagues about his bill stating that “Our small businesses cannot afford to cover the costs associated with compliance, too often leading to closed doors and unemployed Americans,” and that “It is time to take back our legislative power from the EPA and abolish it permanently.” I certainly do not deny that there are problems regarding how regulations affect people and businesses. The language Gaetz’s bill states that the EPA will terminate at the end of 2018. There seems to be no plan on what happens to all the laws the EPA is currently administrating. There is certainly a lot of uncertainty about the future of the EPA under the current administration. There are many reasons why we should keep the EPA. For a reminder, read Why We Need the EPA. My concern is what will happen to our crop protection industry if the EPA suddenly disappears?

The federal law that directly affects pesticide use is called the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). After World War II there was a sharp increase in chemical use in many industries, including farming. This act was passed back in 1947 and was enacted “to address the growing issue of potential environmental damage and biological health risks associated with such widespread use of insecticides”1. FIFRA’s basic function is to “govern the registration, distribution, sale, and use of pesticides in the United States2. The original act required anyone selling pesticides in interstate commerce to register them with the USDA and there was very little required to get a product registered.

In the early 1960’s after the break through publication of Rachael Carson’s book Silent Spring, many people became more aware of the problems pesticides were causing to the environment and potential hazard to human health as well. Many issues started to get noticed, not just environmental and threats to public health but also safety issues for agricultural workers. When the EPA was formed in 1970 the administration of FIFRA was moved to that agency.

Making sure that our crop protection products are safe and effective is an essential role that the EPA has for farmers. We need products that are proven to work, that they can be used safely by our workers and, also,  around our homes, since many of us live on our farms. dreamstime_xxl_83065129We need to make sure our products are safe for our consumers and that our land and water are safe for the future generation that we will be passing our farms down to, not to mention just being good stewards of the land in general. These are all goals that farmers and the EPA have in common. The data the EPA collects and reviews from registrants and the data that the agency produces through their own scientific reviews are essential in order to defend the use of products, easing fears made by those that make false claims of health and environmental harm, and justifying the need to stop using products that no longer fit the safety goals stated above. Without the science done at the EPA, crop protection products are at risk from lawsuits by groups trying to ban any pesticide use and new products that we need will not be able to get registration.

FIFRA does not mandate that the EPA should be the agency in charge of administering the act but it is uniquely qualified to do so. The program could be moved to the FDA or back to the USDA but those agencies are not set up to do the environmental science needed to evaluate crop protection products.  Since science being done on air, water and other areas the EPA regulates ties in closely to all aspects of farming, keeping the regulation of pesticides at the EPA would keep the science needed all under the same agency and allow for better communication and shared resources. If anything the EPA needs more funding, upgraded technology to do better toxicology screening faster, more scientists with the needed expertise and, hopefully, more with a background in crop protection and agriculture.

Another idea of getting the federal government out of what the EPA does and let the states run their own programs is also highly problematic. Now the EPA does the bulk of the work sifting through the data and approving product registration, safety and use regulations. Many states do look at the EPA registration packages and make changes for their local conditions but if each state had to do the entire task of registering a product the costs would be astronomical and the potential for conflicting regulations across state lines could make interstate commerce of crop protecrtion products unmanageable.

Science is the backbone of every aspect of agriculture. We rely on it for almost everything we do.  We should be working on making the EPA better at what they do, not getting rid of it entirely. The EPA has plenty of experience in place to continue to do the work we need in the area of crop protection products. Regulations should be based on sound science but not just when the regulations fall in our favor. We can’t defend sound science on one hand when we are trying to save a product under registration and throw it out when a regulation restricts us. A hearing held February 7th by the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology promised to focus on “Making the Environmental Protection Agency great again” got off on the wrong foot, in my opinion, when the committee chair Lamar Smith suggested that the agency had “relied on questionable science based on nonpublic information that could not be reproduced, a basic requirement of the scientific method” 3. Trying to label science you may not agree with as “questionable” in order to shape policy is what is being done and threatens to be the “nail in the coffin” for the EPA.

Limiting the type of science the EPA can use by suggesting they are using “questionable science” and not following the basics of the scientific method because it can’t be “reproduced” will limit the science needed by the EPA. Only using public information would greatly limit what science can be used or evaluated. Only using science that can be “reproduced” also limits science as it does not allow for scientists to look at changes in methodology or allow for other scientific designs to be used to study the same issue. Not all lab studies can be reproduced, especially if you are trying to transfer what you see in the lab to field conditions.

Weakening the EPA is not in our industry’s best interest. Changes in how regulations are made should be focused on using the science with local stakeholders to craft programs and best use practices to make sure all of the goals of safe farming for agriculture and the environment are met. We should be looking to strengthen EPA regional offices so that they have the staff and funds needed to work with local stakeholders. Legislation like the Wasteful EPA Programs Elimination Act4, introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), calling for the closure all of the EPA’s regional offices is not the way forward. Focused, targeted, well thought out programs with input from all sides should be the way forward. People have lost trust that science is being used to make regulations that will benefit them. Only by working together and actually listening to each other can regulators and stakeholders rebuild trust in the system.

Footnotes

  1. History of the EPA.” Wikipedia. Accessed February 09, 2017. .
  2. Summary of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.” EPA. January 10, 2017. Accessed February 09, 2017. .
  3. Harvey, Chelsea. “The hearing was titled, ‘Making EPA great again.’ Scientists are afraid the opposite will happen.” The Washington Post. Accessed February 09, 2017.
  4. H.R.2111 – 114th Congress (2015-2016): Wasteful EPA Programs Elimination Act of 2015.” H.R.2111 – 114th Congress (2015-2016): Wasteful EPA Programs Elimination Act of 2015 | Congress.gov | Library of Congress. April 29, 2915. Accessed February 11, 2017.

Foreign Invasion threat to farming

Creeping MenaceForeign terrorists have been invading our farms and environment for a long time. These terrorists are called Invasive species. An invasive species is a plant or animal that is not native to a specific location (an introduced species); and has a tendency to spread, which is believed to cause damage to the environment, human economy and/or human health. Species that are moved or migrate to an area where they have not been to before can disrupt the ecology of an area because the native species have not evolved to interact with the newcomer. There may be no natural predators to keep the new species in check or the new species may find a food source that has no defense against the newcomer. There are invasive pests that have invaded our forests, waterways, homes and fields.

The following are just a few I’ve chosen to highlight from the USDA APHIS Hungry Pest website:

gypsy moth“The Asian gypsy moth (AGM) is a destructive, non-native pest that feeds on over 600 types of plants. Large infestations of AGM can completely defoliate trees, leaving them weak and more susceptible to disease or attack by other insects. If defoliation is repeated for two or more years, it can lead to the death of large sections of forests, orchards, and landscaping.” Not only damaging our forests but our landscaping in our cities.

Imported Fire Ants are nasty pests. If you have run into these and have been attacked, you’ll know why. They also damage crops and attack livestock.

giant-snailGiant African Snail is one of the most damaging snails in the world because it consumes at least 500 types of plants and can cause structural damage to plaster and stucco structures. This snail can also carry a parasitic nematode that can lead to meningitis in humans.

Some of these pest have been here a long time and have become “established”. The Asian Tiger Mosquito arrived a long time ago, hitching a ride in some imported tires from China. This mosquito carries West Nile Virus (Link for more on West Nile Virus for WebMD). West Nile virus infects humans and horses. Invasive mosquitoes are also carrying yellow fever, Dengue fever and chikungunya fever.

HydrillaInvasive plants can cause problems as well. Hydrilla is an aquatic plant that invaded Florida and has spread across the country. It is an aggressive plant that out competes native aquatic species and destroys native aquatic ecosystems.

What are some of the more important invasive species that agriculture has to deal with? There are quite a few. First I’ll cover a few that directly impact the crops and then I’ll explain some other ways invasive pest cause problems for agriculture.

Let’s start with one that is something I’m dealing with directly, the Asian citrus psyllid. This pest feeds on the new leaf growth of citrus trees cause the leaves to twist and die back. They are not a particularly difficult insect to control. The biggest problem with this pest is that it can, if infected, transmit a bacteria that causes Huanglongbing (HLB or citrus greening) disease.

Citrus GreeningHuanglongbing causes shoots to yellow, asymmetrically (blotchy mottle), and results in asymmetrically shaped fruit with aborted seeds and bitter juice. The disease can kill a citrus tree within 5 to 8 years, and there is no known cure for the disease.This has already devastated the citrus industry in Florida. It has spread to California, first detected in the Los Angeles area. Even with strict regulations in place about moving citrus trees (the pest does not get on the fruit) it still managed to move from Florida to LA and now up into California’s central valley, the largest citrus growing area in the state.Until just a few months ago none of the psylids found were infected with HLB. Quarantines are in place around areas where the psylids have been caught and this means a lot of extra work if you have to move your fruit to a packing house outside of the area. This includes, but not limited to, spraying pesticides before each pick. A farmer may go through and pick many times before all the fruit is harvested.

BMSBAnother invasive pest headed my way but not yet here is the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB). It “has been detected in California. Wherever BMSB takes up residence, it causes severe crop and garden losses and becomes a nuisance to people. The ability of BMSB to hitchhike in vehicles and planes has allowed it to spread rapidly to new areas. Since it was introduced to the United States from Asia in the 1990s, BMSB has become established in the mid-Atlantic states as well as in Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles”. (from UCIPM website). This pest has recently been found in large numbers in the Sacramento area and has been found Stockton. A number of other native stink bugs are pests in agriculture  They are not easy to control and usually require harsher pesticides to get rid of them. The BMSB has been found to be very hard to control and will definitely be a big impact to our IPM programs as they infest a large number of crops.

These are just two but there are many. Many that have come into California and many that are being tracked for possible entry. You can see a pretty comprehensive list for California here

But other countries are watching us as well and they have their own lists and things they do not want us introducing into their environments. This creates issues for farmers because the packers and shippers must ensure what they are exporting comply with the importing countries regulations concerning these pests. Following is a summary of a few of our pests that we have to take extra measures to control and monitor, and why, in some cases, this causes a problem in our IPM programs.

The Oriental Fruit Moth is a common pest that mainly infests stone fruit (Peaches, Nectarines, Plums, etc). Mexico does not have this pest (or so they claim) so they do not want any fruit coming across the border that may have any of this pest in it. Growers and Packers who want to ship fruit to Mexico must pay into a program for extra monitoring for this pest. This includes paying for inspectors for Mexico to be on site during the growing and harvest season, increased trap density and the costs to have people check these traps more frequently than on a non export field, Since you are not allowed to have ANY of this pest in your fruit you need to make sure you spray every hatch (one a month) even if your trap catches do not indicate a serious infestation. Any trap catches and you are required to spray and you can’t use any of the newer more environmentally friendly products because Mexico doesn’t think they work as well. You really can’t have a good IPM program with someone else dictating what you have to do.

fuller rose beetleFuller Rose beetle is a pest that will lay it’s eggs on citrus fruit, under the stem and can be hard to find. South Korea doesn’t want it. Even if you don’t have it in your fields you are required by the packers to spray at least once before harvest. The citrus industry exports a lot of product and there are other spray programs that are dictated more for appeasing the export markets than for what is going on in the field.

A few years back we had an outbreak of European Grapevine Moth that had hitched a ride on some smuggled grapevines from France over to Napa. They hung out in the Napa area, slowly building populations before someone noticed these were not our common type of worm generally found. Napa doesn’t normally have a big problem with worm pests and this one was causing a lot of problems especially for organic growers. Then it moved. Someone brought infested wood down to Fresno and then the export of table grapes came to a halt. For me, it was just another worm pest that was easily dealt with in my current program but in order to satisfy export markets areas with the pest were quarantined and when and what to spray was dictated by the USDA. No one in those areas could ship out of the US and the industry lost a lot of money.

Spotted Wing Drosophila is a fruit fly that, unlike many of our native fruit flies, will attack undamaged fruit and has many generations in a short period of time. They infest cherries and berries mainly. Also a pest we have to spray for even if we don’t see it because one fly can cause the whole field to be kicked out of an export program.

How do these pest move around? Well, mostly by human activity but also changing climate patterns are opening up new habitats in locations where these pests can move to as well. I mentioned that the European Grapevine moth came in by way of some grapevine cuttings that were transported from France to Napa. They did not go through legal import procedures, otherwise the pests would have been detected. Plants and fruit travel to and from places all the time but if they go through airports or border stations, they can generally be intercepted. But it they do not, hitchhiking pests are never far. This local story is about smuggled fruit being sold by roadside vendors and some had invasive pests on them.

We can all help in the fight against these pests. The USDA’s Hungry Pest website has good information on “What Can You Do“.

Farming and climate change

As a plant doctor I can see that the effects of a warming climate in California are affecting our crops in many ways. Decreasing water supplies force many farmers to stretch irrigations further apart and use less water. This water stress not only hurts the current crop but in many permanent crops, will impact the crop into the seasons to come. Pests are emerging earlier and some are having extra hatches later in the year because the temperatures start higher and remain higher throughout the season. That means the potential for increase in pesticide use and less crop yields due to pest issues.  Warmer weather also impacts disease cycles as many fungal and bacterial disease like warmer temperatures.  Warmer weather means tree fruit and nuts are not getting the “chill hours” they need to bloom and set fruit properly. This is all impacting the productivity of our agriculture industry.

The farming industry has yet to acknowledge the truth about climate change and how it is affecting their industry. Scientists have studied climate change and over 90% have determined that it is our carbon-based industries that are causing the rapid change in our climate. Science is showing that the probability of long mega droughts will be higher as climate change continues. The loss of farm income jobs and the degradation of our underground water supply should be concern enough for farmers and the agriculture industry to start taking a more aggressive approach towards legislation to mitigate the problems of carbon products in our society.

The agriculture industry prides itself in using science especially when it comes to regulations and legislation that affects their industry. But on the question of climate change many in the industry refuse to believe the clear science that shows it is our use of petroleum products that is causing the increase of carbon in our atmosphere and the changes we are seeing in the climate today. One cannot embrace science only when the outcome is favorable to their way of life and reject it when it is inconvenient. It seems that many farmers’ views on the subject are more political than scientific (see this article).

The views and policies of the agriculture industry regarding climate change are old and outdated. It is time that they get behind the push for a carbon tax and start supporting the cap and trade market. Simply building more reservoirs to capture rainfall that is not happening and making fixes to to a water supply system designed to move rainfall from one part of the state to another is not going to solve the problem as rainfall and snow pack diminish. Leaders in the agriculture industry need to wake up and start listening to the science and stop the misguided mantra of “it has to rain sometime”. It may rain sometime but odds are that, in the future, it will not be enough to meet our current needs.

This issue is not going away. In order to save our agriculture industry and way of life we must act. We must get our heads out of the sand and start looking at policies and legislation that will help reduce our country’s reliance on carbon and push our country into a better way of using energy.

Why are bees disappearing?

Bumble BeeI have been following stories bee population declines lately. I’m interested in these stories because the crop protection tools mentioned in these stories are things I sometimes use. I like to know as much as I can about these techniques so I can feel I am using them most effectively.

I must admit that most of the stories I see come to me through Facebook. It is an easy tool to organize interests and have stories show up that may interest you. I do find it mildly amusing and somewhat disturbing that many people seem to make judgments on stores without reading or even, if they do read, looking further into the source of the information they are reading, but that is pretty common on that social media platform.

I find it more disturbing that many people seem to know little about basic science, how it works, how ideas are looked at, analyzed and how to even tell if a study is even designed well. One of the basic rules I learned in science is that “correlation does not necessarily mean causation”. Take a look at the bee population decline issue. Here is the reasoning I see highlighted all over the internet: Bees are insects, pesticides kill insects, one kind of pesticide came out the same time the bees started to decline, therefore these pesticides are causing the bees to die. Correlation = Causation. Things are rarely so black and white. In a complex system as nature, lines are never that straight. Most of Europe banned those pesticides, except for England where conservationists went out and planted wildflowers. The bumblebee population that was in terrible decline started to rapidly bounce back (link to story here).

Bees are in decline for a number of reasons. I’m not saying that the jury is not still out on the role those certain pesticides may be playing, but jumping to a conclusion without looking at all the factors does not solve an issue. Saying the problem is pesticides, spending a lot of time, effort, money, etc. on that one factor and ignoring the rest does nothing to solve the problem. Most of the studies being done do not show that the pesticides are the problem but still the issue persists, mainly because the “social media” crazy is keeping it alive.

Habitat destruction is a big problem and that can’t all be pinned on the back of farming alone. Cropping patterns are changing and that is putting a larger demand on the need for bees. Also, all this moving the bees around long distances can’t be good for them either. Many of the wild plants that they may use in a natural diet, farmers destroy because many of those plants harbor diseases and pests that can transmit those diseases to their crops. More people require more land for homes and jobs, and if you go around your neighborhood you will see a different type of monoculture.

I think the problem with bees is a sign that says we all need to take a look at how we are treating our natural world. We are all in this together, and all of our choices matter. Pointing fingers at each other solves nothing.

What dangers are threatening our food supply?

There are many things one can say about farming but “easy” sure isn’t one of them. Many things can threaten a farmer’s crop, insects, weeds, poor soil, lack of water, diseases, lack of labor, well this list could go on and on but most people are aware that there are lots of things a farmer has to deal with, just like all of us in whatever work we do.

For this post I am going to focus on a singular happening in our corner of the world that most of us have not seen in quite some time. This year we had a very dry winter and spring. This caused the plants in the foothills surrounding our valley to dry up quickly, much sooner than usual. Up in those foothills lives an insect called the Beet leafhopper.beet leafhopper

This particular little beastie is vector of a disease that is deadly to certain crops and because it can be so devasting, there was a program that the government used to carry out to spray the foothills when the beet leafhopper populations were high so that they did not desend into the valley and raise havoc to the crops below. Well, for a varity of reason, enviornmental and monetary, that program was cut way back and now they only spray ditches, roadsides and abandonned fields. So this year as the hills dried up and the large number of leafhoppers desended into the valley looking for food what did they find? Tomatoes!

Processing tomatoes has become a big part of the valley crops cycle. Many farmers have spent a lot of money putting field into drip irrigation to help conserve water and they are planting tomatoes because they yield very well with drip irrigation. But not long after planting they starting seeing plants stop growing and turn a sickly color and die. curly top All over the valley, thousands of acres of tomatoes are affected, some just a few plants here and there and some as many as 50-80% of the plants were infected.

Ok, so what is the point, other than many farmers are going to take it in the shorts because a pest damaged their crop. Isn’t that part of farming? What does this have to do with a threatend food supply. Well in all seriousness, no one will starve if we grow a few thousand tons less of tomatoes this year. But think about it. Remember the potato famine in Ireland? There is a disease that is devasting bananas right now too. We are on our 4th pesticide spray to try to keep our tomatoes from being infected and we all know that more pesticide sprays is really not a sustainable way to go. I thank the stars we are not trying to grow organic tomatoes this year. The best option would be of breed a variety of tomatoes that is resistant to this disease, but so far, through normal breeding techiques, that hasn’t happended.

What if they fould a way to genetically modify a tomato to be resistant to this? No more need to spray the hills or ditch banks or roadsides. No more multi pesticide sprays to try to ward of the leafhopper. Less pesticide sprays are what people want, right? Oh yea, I forgot, GMO food is that evil “Monsanto” thing. So what is it that people want anyway? How are we to protect our food supply and cut down on pesticide use if we can’t even use the best technology out there to fight off diesease, make plant more drought tolerant, yeild more, need less pesticides,etc. Maybe some are thinking that farmers shouldn’t have planted so many tomatoes and that our monculture type of farming is to blame. Well, seriously, a guy had to make a living and there are only so many things one can choose to grow. The choices of what to plant has a lot of componets to it. It isn’t like deciding what to put in your backyard garden.

Well, this post is long enough. Just one little scenario to think on the next time you eat something made from tomatoes and “like” another rant on the evils of “Monsanto”. There is a world to feed and a lot less land to do it on. Just think about that next time you are at the grocery store.

GMO Food labeling, a necessary thing?

Election season is upon us and here in California we have, as usual, a long list of poorly written, ill conceived, Propositions to wade through. I won’t bore you here about what I think of this system of direct governance but I am going to discus one of the propositions on the ballot, Prop 37, which is supposed to make it mandatory for food that is produced with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) be labeled as such. There is a lot about this I could discuss but I do not want to write a lengthy “term paper”.

As a Plant Doctor I have worked with GMO crops that are resistant to certain insects, with lower the use of other pesticides to control them, and those that are resistant to certain herbicides making weed control easier. Some people have said that since the introduction of “Roundup Ready” crops the use of Roundup has increased thus, they say, more herbicides are being used. They don’t understand that the use of Roundup is up but the use of other herbicides for those crops are down. One big benefit of these herbicide resistant crops is the elimination of having to send people in to hand hoe the weeds. Hand labor is expensive and hard to come by.

The biggest problem I have with this “food labeling” idea is that we use our labels on food to identify nutritional information and make sure people with food allergies and other medical issues are able to identify what is safe for them to eat. There are NO medical or allergic issues with any GMO products. None! There is only conjecture based on faulty and deceptive science. There are many examples of these so called scientific studies all over the internet and most that have come under close scrutiny by credible scientific sources have show how flawed these studies are. One news story’s headline is GM Corn-Tumor Link Based on Poor Science. Even the American Medical Association (AMA) says that there is no need to label GMO products. The AMA formal statement reads, in part: “Our AMA believes that as of June 2012, there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods, as a class, …(see more).

Most people that want the labeling just want it because they don’t trust GMO food and they want to know if it is in their food. If they don’t want to trust the science that says it is safe that is their choice and they have the choice to buy organic food that is, by definition, GMO free. But to force that added cost onto everyone just because they have unfounded fear is beyond reason. If we started labeling, banning, and making policy choices based on the fact that some people have an unfounded fear of something, where would that end?

They say that we don’t know the long term effects of GMOs on our bodies. Well, that is true. But we don’t know the long term effects of most of the things we use. Do we not use them? Technological advances are needed to meet present day challenges. We need to grow more food on less land with less inputs and at the same or lower costs. How many people are going to go hungry while we wait to see if there are long term effect? Are we willing to set aside addressing current needs to find out? GMO technology will help us solve food production problems relating to plant and animal diseases, drought, and trying to squeeze more food out of less land. We can’t afford to stifle advances in this scientific tool by making people afraid of it by putting a label on the food as a warning.

(I apologize for not posting over the summer. Family matters along with the hectic summer growing season foiled my plans to blog more frequently)