Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gardening on trial: genetically modified alfalfa deregulated

Finally, my gardening and trial-watching overlap. Thursday 27-January-2011, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (D-IA) decided the U.S. Dep’t of Agriculture (USDA) will fully deregulate genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready® (RR) Alfalfa. While I am upset and depressed about this move, I’m more grateful than ever to have an organic vegetable garden and more determined than ever to be a better gardener.

This story on RR Alfalfa started with a lawsuit in 2006 (details here), brought by organic farmers against Monsanto and a subsequent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on 21-June-2010. That was the first Supreme Court ruling on a genetically modified (GM) crop and was a decision that basically put the power in the hands of the USDA on these issues. Seems like lately, USDA decisions have aligned with the desires of biotech, big agribusiness, and herbicide industries.

Why am I so depressed about this move?

1) Alfalfa is used as a forage crop to feed livestock; it affects meat and dairy products...and more.
If cows are fed GE crops, those cows' milk cannot be (labeled as) organic. The global effects from widespread use of GM crops including RR Alfalfa is largely unknown. I don't even know if my little urban vegetable garden could be safe from RR Alfalfa.

Furthermore, the ramifications and global effects from widespread use of Roundup (glyphosate) are unknown at this time (re EPA).

We already know it has detrimental effects on field workers and will tend to accelerate the evolution of "superweeds."

It seems like one would have to be apathetic, extremely optimistic, or just well-paid to believe Roundup and RR crops are a good thing in the long run (see this "Understanding RR Alfalfa" report).

I believe this carte-blanche approval and widespread acceptance and use of Roundup and resulting monoculture will prove to have horrible effects on biodiversity and people's quality of food and quality of life. Beyond that, it sets a precedent for a continuing dominance of GMO over organic.

2) We have lost a big battle, maybe the last big battle for organic food.
We are seeing fewer and fewer barriers for biotech and herbicide industries to move forward with their plans to implement their experimental techniques on a grand, grand scale. Now the onus is really on us, the organic consumers, to demand transparency in labeling and truth in testing of the foods we buy at markets, grocery stores, and restaurants. 

The onus is also on us, the organic growers, to avoid becoming victims of cross-pollination and contamination from GE seeds and plants grown in fields near ours.

I doubt it’s possible to avoid contamination; there are various ways GM crops can contaminate organic crops (bees travel up to five miles, wind, birds, truck spillage.) The big biotech and herbicide companies even have various ways of spinning the results of contamination to their advantage, hurting the smaller and organic growers. As a result of this USDA move, it will simply be harder and harder to find organic foods we can really trust.

3) Some of our biggest allies capitulated.
Big players that most of us thought were on our side in this battle, particularly Whole Foods Market, finally showed a shift in their approach. Where they once fought hard against the biotech industry, they ultimately looked to compromise, settling for "a seat at the table" and a wimpy attempt to "attach strings" to the governing policies in agriculture as a last resort. (Read more on this at La Vida Locavore.)

It's all looking to me like hypocrisy and lies in a popularity contest: Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program, aimed at battling obesity and bad eating habits among children; President Obama, USDA, FDA, and Vilsack all seem to favor Monsanto. In September 2001, Vilsack (D-IA) was named Governor of the Year by the world’s largest biotech organization, BIO, an organization with whom Monsanto worked to extend its RR Soybean patent.

All of this makes me even more determined to support my local organic farmers—we are fortunate to have so many here.

Beyond buying from local, known sources, what are my other trustworthy sources and to whom do I write? Organic Consumers Association (OCA). Center for Food Safety (CFS).

More suggestions welcome, but don't tell me to write to Obama.

Big thanks to Edible Aria for this link to non-GMO seeds.

Also big thanks to husband Kurt in helping me research and compose this post.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2011 gardening: more tough love

Saturday night, we finally got enough rain to break in my new rain gauges, a little more than half an inch. It arrived just in time to offer some protection against the past two nights' hard freezes. Something about these two weather events solidified my resolve to practice more tough love, especially in our lawnless front yard, which is filled with established drought-tolerant plants. If the indigo spires are droopy and thirsty, so be it. They'll bounce back if/when it rains.

However, I've had a more difficult time being tough with my vegetable garden, but now I can see that the vegetables will probably be fine with a little less water and a little less complete coverage in freezes. Not sure if this is apathy or wisdom, but I just don't care much if I lose some plants because of some neglect on my part.

I Harvested tiny broccoli crowns, cauliflower, parsely, cilantro, and two types of kale before the freeze.
I covered most of the potted plants, the beet seedlings, garlic, and lettuces but left the broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and carrots uncovered.
New ponytail palm! I bought two new peace lilies and a "Fabian" aralia, too.
I've become a little obsessed lately experimenting with incorporating my homegrown greens and herbs into soups. Yesterday I made up a cauliflower sweet potato soup with lots of cilantro. It was hearty and tangy, a success. It's still very cold today to this cold-wimp Texan, so I'm headed to the kitchen now to make free-range bison chili from Thunder Heart Bison .