September 11, 2013

Natural Foodie: It's been a bumper year for anti-GMO action

By AVERY YALE KAMILA

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This summer, non-GMO labels sprouted up everywhere, from the farmers market to the grocery store. Recent laws passed by Maine and Connecticut, and under consideration in a number of other states, would require foods containing GMOs to be labeled.

Avery Yale Kamila photos

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UPCOMING GMO RALLY

ACTIVISTS AROUND THE GLOBE plan to hold a second March Against Monsanto on Oct. 12. The event is intended to draw attention to Monsanto's global push for farmers to grow its patented GMO seeds. In Maine, organizers plan to meet in Portland's Monument Square at 2 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to bring a GMO-free picnic to enjoy before the march.

INTERNATIONAL GMO BANS

In India, where the battle over gene-altered crops has been intense and opponents have linked the high costs associated with GMO seeds to an epidemic of farmer suicides, an expert committee in July recommended a moratorium on field trials of GMO crops. The report, prepared for India's Supreme Court, calls for the moratorium to remain in effect until more studies examine the long-term safety of the crops. GMO versions of rice, eggplant and mustard (all plants which originated in India) will face a total ban if the report's recommendations are implemented.

Meanwhile, in Italy, an agricultural researcher planted two fields with GMO corn in April in defiance of Italian regulations. His act of civil disobedience was meant to call attention to Italy's sidestep of European Union approval for two GMO seeds – a corn variety and a potato variety. Italy requires a special permit for farmers to grow either crop, yet the agricultural ministry has never issued such a permit to any farmer. The illegal corn fields were later destroyed by environmental activists.

The same corn variety, known as MON810 and produced by Monsanto, stirred controversy in France in August. That's when a top administrative court ruled a government ban on its cultivation is illegal under EU rules. President Francois Hollande reacted by announcing an extension of the ban, pending a final decision in 2014, and his agriculture minister said the court didn't have the authority to overturn the ban. The current ban was enacted in 2008, overturned in 2011 and reinstated in 2012.

Facing such mounting opposition to GMOs in the European Union, Monsanto's European president, Jose Manuel Madero, told the Reuters news agency in July that the company plans to drop all approval requests for its patented GMO crops. The one exception would be its MON810 corn seed, which is one of only two GMO crops allowed in EU member nations. Madero said Monsanto would seek to renew approval for this seed.

Coming up at the end of the month, Finland holds a summit to explore the idea of declaring the country a GMO-free zone. The event will be hosted by the Finnish Parliament and will discuss whether there is potential economic advantage to be gained by such a move.

SEED FARMERS' LAWSUIT

In June, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. sided with Monsanto and a lower court in ruling a group of seed farmers lack standing to sue the biotech giant. The farmers decided last week to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A group of 73 organizations and individual farmers joined the lawsuit originally brought in 2011 by the Maine-based Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association with legal backing from the New York-based Public Patent Foundation. The farmers want protection against patent infringement lawsuits if their crops become contaminated by Monsanto's gene-altered varieties.

While the court ruled the farmers don't have cause to bring the lawsuit, the farmers view the ruling as a partial victory because the decision was based on Monsanto's "binding assurances" during the legal proceedings not to sue farmers should their crops become polluted by Monsanto's patent-protected genes. Fear of such lawsuits is what prompted the lawsuit.

OREGON WHEAT SCANDAL

An incident in Oregon in late May demonstrated why seed growers worry about genetically engineered crops. The situation began when a farmer sprayed his wheat field with the weedkiller Roundup (a controversial herbicide made by Monsanto) and a small percentage of the wheat plants survived. Tests conducted at Oregon State University showed the surviving plants were Monsanto's never commercially approved Roundup Ready wheat, which can withstand the herbicide and was grown in field trials that ended in 2005.

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