Growing GMO Threat Highlighted at Major Farming Conference

Center for Food Safety and Penn State scientists discuss current GMO crops, and the ones the biotech industry plans on introducing next.

February 3, 2011

Pollen from GMO crops can easily cross-contaminate nearby fields.

RODALE NEWS, STATE COLLEGE, PA—More than 2,000 sustainable farmers, gardeners, registered dietitians, scientists, and consumer watchdog and food-safety advocates from around the country are attending the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture’s Farming for the Future conference in State College this week. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the conference, which is being held on the heels of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to fully deregulate the planting of genetically engineered (GM or GMO) alfalfa. That move threatens organic agriculture, and even nonorganic crops, and ignores the growing sector of consumers who want GMO- and pesticide-free food.


THE DETAILS: A special daylong conference session focusing on GMOs was held Thursday, and featured Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, the organization that announced it will take legal action to keep GMO Roundup Ready alfalfa off the market. During the session, he kept circling back to one fact he believes every consumer needs to know: “The only purpose of these crops is to allow for greater sales and greater ease of herbicide use. That’s not in the public interest,” he said. One of the reasons the biotech industry doesn’t want to label foods containing GMOs, he said, is because GMOs don't offer the consumer anything but risk, and don't provide the consumer with any benefits.

WHAT IT MEANS: While the session outlined the trouble with regulating current GMO crops—Kimbrell says Congress has thus far avoided updating laws that were designed before the widespread use of GMO seeds—researchers also outlined major concerns with new GMO crops being tested and awaiting approval. For instance, chemical company Dow is pushing its 2,4-D-resistant gene for use in corn and soy. (A pesticide/herbicide, 2,4-D is a suspected carcinogen, and related to the herbicide Agent Orange.)

Kimbrell explains that all of these GMO crops are on the table because the first generation of Roundup Ready corn and soy—crops engineered to withstand high doses of the Roundup herbicide—aren't working anymore. Weeds have grown resistant to the widely used chemical in a matter of years. So GMO companies are developing crops resistant to multiple pesticides to make the technology viable again, even though researchers say weeds will grow resistant to these new GMO crops as well within 10 to 15 years. During the session, David Mortensen, PhD, professor of weed ecology at Penn State University, shared his team’s recent findings, which he presented to Congress last summer. If chemical companies get their way and 2,4-D and Monsanto’s new generation of GMO seeds tailored to take heavy sprayings enter the market over the course of the next two or three years, pesticide use in the U.S. will actually double.

Mortensen says the drift associated with these chemicals is especially problematic because the two herbicides in question volatilize easily in hot weather, and have the potential to move into neighboring gardens and farms. Some reports show damage to crops nearly a quarter of a mile away from the application site. The herbicides are especially damaging or lethal to cash crops and garden favorites like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, and grapes.

To take a stand against GMO crops in the food supply, join efforts with organic and conventional non-GMO farmers, advocates, and food-safety groups.