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GMOs At The Brink  


Frank Morton

My attitude toward Genetically Engineered crops had generally been to ignore them, until they moved in next door in the form of Roundup Ready sugar beet seed production. [For the full story of the background on this situation, see the essay GMOs At The Door from 2008]. Eventually, I became a plaintiff in a lawsuit in order to protect our seed crops’ organic integrity, and this case will finally come to trial on April 3, 2009.

The GE-sugar beet case is just the latest front in the war against choice for the eaters of the land. In the case of corn and soy, it has now become difficult for even organic processors to get organic corn and soy that are not contaminated by commingling with GE crops in combines, trucks, silos and rail cars – or by genetic commingling via cross pollination in the field. Departing Bush declarations gave biotech a boost by "streamlining" the deregulation process at USDA, though the General Accounting Office (GAO) of Congress recently recognized threats to organic and GMO-sensitive export markets from cross contamination in the food chain, and has indicated a need for more scrutiny of contamination issues and the GE-crop deregulation process. This is presently in play.

This GAO position is right in alignment with our tact in the GE-beet case. One of our complaints is that USDA/APHIS did not consider the economic threat to the organic and non-GMO specialty seed market when they deregulated the growing of Roundup Ready sugar beet seeds within an existing world class seed growing region–the Willamette Valley of Oregon. USDA committed the same lack of oversight in the case of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa, and a successful suit by our legal team at Center For Food Safety in that case held up on Appeal last September. The GE-alfalfa case is the Precedent upon which our sugar beet case hangs, so this is very good news.

During the same month last fall, we won a decision against Monsanto, Syngenta, all the sugar companies, and sugar beet growers coop, when they tried to intervene in the case on the side of USDA/APHIS. This could have resulted in years of legal delays as these financially interested parties muddied the clarity of our legal complaint about the deregulatory process. The Judge agreed with our contention that the matters of Law need to be decided before matters Financial.

Latest indications are that sales of Roundup Ready soy seed have recently fallen (after accounting for 97% of the 2007 crop) as farmers realized that at current prices for biotech seed and the Roundup herbicide to go with it, and the well-documented 15% yield loss with RR-soybeans, the package just doesn’t pay. It is more profitable to grow from normal seed, there is increasing demand for non-GE soy, and the money conserved by good ol’ seed saving practices is big money compared to buying the biotech seed and herbicide package. Promises don’t sell as well when credit is tight and farmers sharpen their pencils.

"Brink" is an old Norse word indicating some critical boundary, an extreme edge, a verge, beyond which something will occur. The run up in acreage for GMOs has paralleled other unnatural growth rates in the financial world. We have watched the dramatic reversal in financial fortunes since September 2008. That was a brink if ever there was one. We are not yet beyond that verge.

Printed in the 2009 Wild Garden Seed Catalog.

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