The Green Plate: Flare-Ups In Frankenfood

The GMO industry is like an out-of-control forest fire. Just when you think one section is tamped down, another spark is fanned into flames.

Just like a forest fire, there are many fronts in this fight, making it difficult to keep track of current developments.

Then there are the weapons at the fighters’ disposal. On one side of the battle, we have the equivalent of 5 gallon water buckets in the form of activist group petitions, email newsletters, and calls to Congressional representatives. On the other side, there are air tankers in the form of money and the influence it can buy (even to the point of influencing foreign governments). Increasingly, there’s something much more insidious than that on the side of GMOs – I’m going to go ahead and call it espionage.

Earlier this month, The Guardian reported that recently released WikiLeaks cables documented how diplomats in the Bush Administration had attempted to influence The Vatican to voice its support for biotech crops. Other leaks showed how embassy officials in France had urged the U.S government to retaliate, through unfavorable trade policies, against countries in the EU that refused to approve GMO crops.

Equally shocking, an article in The Nation last fall about Blackwater (the private security firm that has come under fire for its role in Iraq regarding massacres of innocent civilians, and has since rebranded) detailed how Monsanto hired Total Intelligence Solutions (a firm owned by Blackwater founder and owner Erik Prince) to infiltrate and spy on anti-GMO groups. The article states that Monsanto hired Total Intelligence in 2008-09 to act as an intelligence arm of Monsanto to survey the Internet activity of activist groups and protect the Monsanto brand. Internal emails obtained by The Nation talked about how individuals from Total Intelligence could join activist groups (especially animal rights activists) and report back on group activities.

Now that we know what we’re up against weapon-wise, here’s a rundown of current hot spots in GMOs:

GE Alfalfa: The most urgent issue right now is the imminent approval of GE alfalfa by the USDA. Read about how GE alfalfa will jeopardize organic food and farmers here. Take Action here. You have until February 16th.

GE Salmon: The FDA decision on GE salmon is stalled so the fight has moved to California. With the feds unwilling to listen to consumer groups, these issues are increasingly up to the states. In the event that GE salmon is approved, California has a bill that would require any GE salmon sold in California to be labeled. Take action here.

GE Sugar Beets: In early December, Judge Jeffrey White, a Federal Judge in Northern California ordered genetically modified sugar beets to be pulled from the ground and destroyed after determining that the beets were approved by the Agriculture Department and planted illegally without proper environmental review. Now the USDA and the sugar industry are predicting a shortage of sugar, but it’s a shortage they manufactured. When Judge White originally ruled that the USDA had violated environmental laws by not conducting a full review before approving the crop in 2005 he warned that future beet harvests would likely need to rely on conventional seed. According to the New York Times, the judge expressed irritation that the USDA and Monsanto waited almost a year after his ruling to enact interim measures to ensure farmers would have enough conventional seed. No action to take on this one right now, but definitely an issue to watch.

This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate, on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.

Image: Olibac

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.