Planet Diversity World Congress on the Future of Food and Agriculture

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25.05.2018 |

Monsanto And Bayer Are Set To Merge. Here's Why You Should Care

Together they will influence markets all over the world on a scale we’ve never seen before.

The U.S. Justice Department this month is expected to approve a merger of two huge corporations ― St. Louis-based seed company Monsanto and German crop-chemical conglomerate Bayer ― and the consequences could be enormous.

The $66 billion deal, already approved by the European Union, will create the world’s biggest pesticides and seeds monopoly. The hookup will confine 61 percent of global seeds and pesticides production in the hands of just three megacorporations ― the other two being newly merged DowDuPont, and ChemChina, which acquired pesticides and seed company Syngenta last year.

Is that a problem?

It depends who you ask. Monsanto and Bayer are pitching their consolidation as a way to develop the technology and innovation necessary to feed a world that in two decades is likely to be home to 10 billion people. For critics ― environmentalists and many farmers ― it’s a terrifying step toward a near-monopoly in agriculture, giving giant companies unprecedented access to farmer data, squeezing out small farmers, and potentially raising food prices for consumers.

24.05.2018 |

What to expect from the new GMO labels we're getting in 2020

Grocery stores may look a little different.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced their plan for rolling out mandatory labels for all food products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). So far they’ve only released potential prototypes for the labels and a proposed set of rules, both of which are subject to future changes, but they offer a preview of what we might all be seeing on cans and boxes come 2020, when the new regulations would go into effect.

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What will the labels say?

Somewhat confusingly, they won’t say “GMO.” The proposed labels use the terms “BE” and “bioengineered” instead to avoid the contentious connotations that GMO carries. They labels look quite friendly, which people in the pro-labeling camp have already criticized, and would only appear as a small icon on the final food product. You can check them out here—they’re mostly the letters B-E inside a happy green and yellow circle. But using those labels is just one of three options. The second is to write out the disclosure (for example: “contains a bioengineered food ingredient”). Companies could also opt to use a QR code that would link to the proper disclosure.

If the current proposal passes, that could mean companies who want to hide their GMO affiliations could easily obscure the information, at least from consumers who aren’t going to take the time to scour the small print or scan a QR code (or can’t). It’s open to comment from the public until July 3, and a final ruling will come out later this year (the USDA hasn’t said exactly when yet). Not much is likely to change at this point, though. Congress has already enacted the standard—this is just figuring out the nitty gritty of enforcement.

24.05.2018 |

GMO Food Labels Are Coming But The Word Will Be ‘Bioengineered’

By 2020, many foods produced with genetic engineering will have to say so on their labels. Earlier this month, the USDA announced their proposal for the rules and accompanying logos, which cleverly sidestep the GMO labeling controversy by not using the letters G-M-O at all.

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“BE” stands for bioengineered, a term that has been occasionally applied to genetically engineered foods but that was basically unknown to most of us. Dictionaries mostly define the word bioengineering as having something to do with medicine, although Google has caught on and now directs searches for “bioengineered food” toward Wikipedia’s page on genetically engineered food.

The proposed logos go a step further and make bioengineering look appealing. One of the proposed logos is green and leafy, the universal symbol for eco-friendly stuff you should pay extra for. The others hint at smiley faces. Paired with the word bioengineering, you get the impression this is some ecologically conscious European sort of thing. (And in fact, some comments point out that it could be confused with the European version of the organic label.)

23.05.2018 |

As Landmark Glyphosate Case Moves to Trial, Man Dying of Cancer to Have Day in Court With Monsanto

A California man dying of cancer will soon become the first person ever to take agrochemical giant Monsanto to trial over allegations that the company has concealed findings that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the company's popular weedkiller Roundup, causes cancer.

Before DeWayne Johnson, a 46-year-old father of three, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of 42, he worked for a school district in California, "where his responsibilities included direct application of Roundup and RangerPro, another Monsanto glyphosate product, to school properties," according to his "landmark" lawsuit.

"Monsanto does not want the truth about Roundup and cancer to become public," Johnson's attorney, Michael Miller, told the Guardian. "We look forward to exposing how Monsanto hid the risk of cancer and polluted the science."

Monsanto attempted to bar Johnson's experts from testifying and his legal team from using certain research to argue that Johnson's cancer is tied to his exposure to Monsanto's products. In an order issued last week, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtin Karnow granted some of Monsanto's requests, but will still allow Johnson's lawyers to use numerous peer-reviewed studies and expert testimonies during the trial, which begins June 18.

22.05.2018 |

These CRISPR-modified crops don't count as GMOs

To feed the burgeoning human population, it is vital that the world figures out ways to boost food production.

Increasing crop yields through conventional plant breeding is inefficient – the outcomes are unpredictable and it can take years to decades to create a new strain. On the other hand, powerful genetically modified plant technologies can quickly yield new plant varieties, but their adoption has been controversial. Many consumers and countries have rejected GMO foods even though extensive studies have proved they are safe to consume.

But now a new genome editing technology known as CRISPR may offer a good alternative.

I’m a plant geneticist and one of my top priorities is developing tools to engineer woody plants such as citrus trees that can resist the greening disease, Huanglongbing (HLB), which has devastated these trees around the world. First detected in Florida in 2005, the disease has decimated the state’s US$9 billion citrus crop, leading to a 75 percent decline in its orange production in 2017. Because citrus trees take five to 10 years before they produce fruits, our new technique – which has been nominated by many editors-in-chief as one of the groundbreaking approaches of 2017 that has the potential to change the world – may accelerate the development of non-GMO citrus trees that are HLB-resistant.

22.05.2018 |

What you need to know about the future of GMO products at Whole Foods

Whole Foods is delaying a policy that would have required its suppliers to label genetically modified organism (GMO)-containing products on its store shelves by September of this year. In a letter that was apparently sent to suppliers last week, according to the New Food Economy, the grocery store chain announced it would be postponing the September 1, 2018 deadline, first announced five years ago. Whole Foods cites upcoming U. S. Department of Agriculture standards as the reason behind the change and has not yet provided a new deadline. Here's what you need to know about changes to GMO labeling at Whole Foods:

What is the definition of a GMO?

The dictionary definition of a genetically modified organism is "an organism whose genome has been altered by the techniques of genetic engineering so that its DNA contains one or more genes not normally found there." Whole Foods draws a slightly harder line on that definition on its website, saying, "Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), also referred to as products of genetic engineering, are organisms whose genetic makeup (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally." However, the USDA has weighed in with its own definition (more on that below). Whether or not GMO foods pose any risk to consumers, many concerned shoppers are demanding transparency on the use of genetically modified ingredients in their food.

19.05.2018 |

March Against Monsanto held in Sioux Falls

Sioux Falls, SD (KSFY) A Sioux Falls woman hosted a local March Against Monsanto Saturday, joining more than 428 other cities around the globe holding similar informational protests.

She says the goal of the march is to raise public awareness about Monsanto's corporate farming and business practices while also fighting for better labeling laws that identify GMO products.

“They are dumping thousands of gallons of chemicals on our food every year and people are getting sick," Sioux Falls March Against Monsanto Organizer Diane Wilson said.

16.05.2018 |

The EU needs to speak up to avoid ‘backdoor’ GMOs on our plates

By Mute Schimpf | Friends of the Earth Europe

When is a genetically modified organism (GMO) not a GMO? This is the question that the ECJ will soon rule on after a complaint from a coalition of French agriculture groups reached the EU’s highest court, writes Mute Schimpf.

Schimpf is a food campaigner for the environmental NGO Friends of the Earth Europe.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is expected to rule in the coming weeks whether new genetic modification (GM) techniques to make foods and farm crops – so-called ‘GM 2.0’ – are fully covered by existing safety laws.

Immediately after the ruling, the European Commission must quickly get its act together and ensure crops produced from new GM techniques are safety-checked and labelled, otherwise it will face public backlash and regulatory problems.

If the court’s ruling follows its Advocate General’s opinion as expected, it is likely to suggest that most food and crops derived from GM 2.0 techniques would be classified as GMOs.

However, this doesn’t automatically mean that they will be subject to the same safety checks that cover first-wave GMOs.

11.05.2018 |

These Farmers Switched to Organic After Pesticides Made Their Families Sick

Some farmers transition to organic production to earn premium prices. Others switch to make their farms more sustainable. But for some farmers, transitioning to organic is a necessary way to protect their family’s health—and even save their lives.

Blaine Schmaltz, who farms in Rugby, North Dakota, is a good example. One day in 1993, Schmaltz was spraying an herbicide on his field. He stopped to check the level in the sprayer tank. While looking inside, he lost control of his legs and passed out. He was later hospitalized for several months with asthma, muscle aches and pains, and insomnia. A doctor diagnosed him with “occupational asthma.”

“The doctor told me to leave agriculture,” Schmaltz says. “He said, ‘if you don’t, you probably won’t live 10 years.’”

While recovering, Schmaltz read about organic farming and decided to transition because he wanted to continue farming. The next spring he started the transition, and over time his symptoms disappeared. Today, Schmaltz continues to grow certified organic wheat, beans, flax, and other specialty grains.

“I didn’t switch to organic farming for the money or a utopian dream,” he says. “I did it for myself and my family in order to stay in agriculture.”

09.05.2018 |

Brazil’s National Cancer Institute names GM crops as cause of massive pesticide use

After the WHO’s classification of glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen”, Brazil’s cancer institute condemns GM crops for placing the country in the top ranking globally for pesticide consumption. Claire Robinson reports

The release of GM crops in Brazil has helped make it the largest consumer of agrochemicals in the world, according to a hard-hitting new report from Brazil’s National Cancer Institute José Alencar Gomes da Silva (INCA), part of the country’s Ministry of Health.

The report says that national consumption of agrochemicals is equivalent to 5.2 litres of agrochemicals per year for each inhabitant. Agrochemical sales increased from USD 2 billion in 2001 to 8.5 billion in 2011.

The report names GM crops as a key cause of the trend: “Importantly, the release of transgenic seeds in Brazil was one of the factors responsible for putting the country in first place in the ranking of agrochemical consumption – since the cultivation of these modified seeds requires the use of large quantities of these products.”

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