Renewable Farming

“Regulatory Risk” of transgenic technology grows along with bans, warnings, controversy

Missouri’s Department of Agriculture on July 13 lifted a temporary ban on spraying dicamba.  However on the same day, Tennessee restricted its use, and a Reuters report indicated that “Kansas is investigating complaints.” 

In Canada, several major farm organizations are demanding a repeal of the Canadian government’s registration for GMO alfalfa

July 14, 2017 by Jerry Carlson — And in the background, there’s a rising groundswell among U.S. food and health activists for a significant health warning on foods containing genetically modified ingredients. The current “GMO labeling” law is largely meaningless, as it allows food retailers to simply advise consumers to inquire online about GMO content. There’s no requirement for a clear warning on the retail label which a customer can read in the story. USDA is given broad discretion to implement this regulation.

But a new retail food label, as proposed by Moms Across America, would be very specific and would address the fact that GMO crops engineered to disarm glyphosate are very likely to contain glyphosate residues. Here’s the language on the label which Moms Across America began urging today (the links embedded in the statement were placed by Moms Across America):

Warning: This product contains genetically modified organisms which have been shown to produce toxins and stimulate tumor growth in animals. Many GMOs are engineered to withstand pesticides which do not dry, wash, or cook off. Therefore, this product may contain carcinogenicneurotoxicantibiotic, and endocrine disrupting chemicals which cause liver disease

Here’s the link to the full story from Moms Across Americasent to the group’s huge e-mail list this morning. Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of such an appeal. Moms Across America marshaled a surge of support recently for an official ruling by California regulators that glyphosate is on the state’s list of carcinogens under Proposition 65. Founder Zen Honeycutt and hundreds of volunteers to bring expert testimony to the hearing by the California EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Agency. This effort overwhelmed the intense lobbying efforts of multinational herbicide manufacturers.

It’s a reminder of a comment we heard a couple of years ago from ag consultant Bob Streit. A paraphrase of what he said: “There are two main groups that ag chemical companies can’t afford to antagonize. The first is American moms. The second is Chinese consumers.”

Farmers whose production strategy is heavily dependent on GMO traits and their linked herbicides are increasingly vulnerable to abrupt changes in regulatory attitudes. 

Reliance on controversial pesticides such as chlorpyrifos is another example. On July 13, the Pesticide Action Network (yet another activist group) summed up the challenges to USDA’s cancellation of a planned withdrawal of chlorpyrifos, a potent organophosphate blamed for up to 10,000 human deaths a year worldwide. 

Then there’s the ongoing uproar about neonic pesticides versus honeybees. 

Years ago, American wheat growers fought to avoid registration of GMO wheat. They’ve successfully ducked the potential loss of overseas export markets, except for a brief loss of sales in 2013 upon discovery of “escaped” GMO wheat. Biotech firms were sued over that case. In 2006, a similar loss of export markets from transgenic contamination hit rice growers. It took until 2011 for growers to collect $750 million in damages from Bayer. 

When regulatory risk is piled on top of liability risk, licensing agreements and reporting requirements plus safety training and licensing, farming takes on fresh burdens on top of weather and price risk. There’s enough hassle in farming already if you have to comply with USDA farm program rules. 

All this is without mentioning the high probability of weed resistance to whatever new herbicide combinations the industry comes up with, and the liability between neighbors that drift can involve.

The most enthused growers we encounter are those who are transitioning to a production strategy in the “biological farming” arena. This includes:

1. Increased reliance on precision measuring of all-season nutrient needs, to be met with foliar feeding and side-dressing. 

2. Transitioning to non-GMO seed and investing the seed savings in improved soil biology, which has a long-term benefit of damping down weed and pest pressures.

3. Quite a few farmers are migrating more acres into organic production. Demand for organic feedstuffs has kept prices of organic corn and soybeans relatively strong while the price of GMO corn and soybeans — 90% or so of U.S. production — keeps sagging.

Example: This week we received another WakeUP order from a Wisconsin grower who’s all non-GMO. He has a long-term corn yield average well over 200 bu. per acre, and often sees corn test weights well over 60 pounds per bushel. Local livestock growers are migrating to his corn; they find it superior to “elevator corn” and their own GMO hybrids in the feedlot and especially in sow gestating rations.  The Wisconsin grower says he has no early die-down of corn, stalks are green at harvest when corn combines at moisture levels in the low 20s.  He’s enthused about farming. And he faces very little regulatory uncertainty. 

I can’t help but wonder if Monsanto and Syngenta directors sensed some further regulatory risk over the horizon. I wonder if this could have been a factor in selling Monsanto to Bayer and Syngenta to ChemChina. If the biggies are bailing, is that an early warning signal?  I wouldn’t expect the regulatory risk to originate in Washington. Our EPA and USDA and FDA are more cheering squads for biotech than watchdogs for us humble citizens.

At Renewable Farming, we would have never developed WakeUP as a surfactant, leaf cleanser and product carrier if it was significantly toxic. We use it to wash our vegetables for juicing (and I drink about 70 ounces of fresh, organic juice a day). I even use WakeUP Summer, straight from our production plant, as a shaving soap. Up with freedoms, down with toxins that require regulations and the related risks!