September 26, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Amanda
Schoenberg, The Register-Pajaronian, 09/23/04:
Sounding a warning bell about potential risks of genetically
modified organisms for both consumers and farmers, GMO
opponents spoke to about 20 locals Tuesday at the Green
Valley Grill about their experiences in the corn, soybean
and rice industries.
The five-county California speaking tour, co-sponsored
by the National Family Farm Coalition and the Californians
for GE-Free Agriculture coalition of farmers and consumer
organizations, focuses on the Midwest experience with
Although only 2 percent of California's more than 350
crops are genetically engineered, strawberries and lettuce
could be affected within two to five years, Californians
for GE-Free Agriculture campaign coordinator Renata
The USDA has approved 82 genetic engineering field
trials for lettuce, with most in California, while 42
different trials study strawberries. About 50 percent
of cotton in California is genetically modified, Brillinger
To form genetically engineered crops, scientists splice
genes from plants, bacteria and animals into seeds.
GMOs appeal to some farmers because they can produce
crops with built-in insecticides or that resist common
The most common GMOs are soy, corn, canola and cotton,
Brillinger said, and the Grocery Manufacturers of America
has estimated that more than 70 percent of processed
food in the United States has genetically engineered
If biotechnology companies have their way, rice will
be the next big commodity GMO, Brillinger said. The
Bayer Corporation received federal approval for liberty
link rice, which was modified to withstand its glufosinate-based
liberty herbicide, but awaits state approval.
Dan McGuire, policy chairman of the American Corn Growers
Association and director for the Farmer Choice-Customer
First program on GMOs, owns a 320-acre soybean and corn
farm in Nebraska. McGuire told conference participants
that he does not allow genetically engineered crops
on his land.
His presentation focused on the lost income for corn
farmers because international clients, representing
20 percent of the U.S. market, often refuse genetically
From 109 million bushels of corn exported to Europe
before GMOs entered the U.S. market in 1996, U.S. farmers
now send about half a million. Prices have dropped from
$3.20 per bushel in 1995 to as low as $1.80 this year,
"A corn price reduction of $1 per bushel costs
U.S. farmers $11 billion on the farm value of the 2004
crop alone," McGuire said.
"U.S. farm policy has failed miserably,"
he said. "Farmers are stuck in a policy we oppose.
Wheat and rice have the luxury of learning from corn."
California rice farmer Ron Lee voiced concerns about
the 65 percent of California rice being exported to
Japan, Taiwan and Korea, all of which have mandatory
GMO labeling requirements. Rice growers would have to
increase spending on the costly separation of GMO products
throughout production if genetically engineered rice
George Naylor, who has grown corn and soybeans on his
Iowa family farm since 1976, told locals that farmers
had been tricked by agronomists who claimed GMOs had
been tested and regulated.
Separating his crops from GMOs, especially given corn's
susceptibility to cross-pollination, is becoming increasingly
expensive, and even organic seeds have been contaminated
by GMOs, he said.
Farmers using GMOs are not required to inform their
neighbors, and the only recommendation to avoid contamination
is to construct a 1,000-foot border, which could eliminate
entire fields for small farmers, Naylor said.
Organic grower and chairperson of the California Certified
Organic Farmers Vanessa Bogenholm, who attended the
conference, said she was especially concerned about
contamination of local organic farms by GMOs, given
that farmers do not have to report GMO production.
Local organic farmers are pushing hard in favor of
four county initiatives banning GMOs in California and
for labeling all genetically engineered products, Bogenholm
"If there's nothing scary in there, why not label?"
Naylor advised California growers and consumers against
buying into genetically engineered plans for California.
"If the system ain't broke, don't try and fix
it," Naylor said. "Don't listen to people
who don't have concerns for the consumer, the environment
or the farmer."