Ag community reacts to GMO news
Mixture of concern, approval here in wake of U.S. government action Ag community reacts to GMO news BY JON RUTTER, Staff Writer
The latest Washington skirmish over genetically engineered crops is over.
The genetically modified organisms (GMOs) won –– a new provision passed by Congress and signed last week by President Barack Obama says farmers can continue cultivating government-approved biotech crops even in the face of legal challenges over their safety.
The idea pleases some farmers here, but incenses others.
"I don't see anything wrong with any of it," said Donald Witmer of Letort Valley Farms in Washington Boro. "We're feeding the world cheaper than we ever did," thanks to GMOs' ability to ward off pests and increase yields, he said.
But organic farmers are sorely disappointed by the new "Farmer Assurance Provision," which they say amounts to de facto deregulation of GMOs created by such companies as Monsanto and DuPont.
Casey Spacht, general manager of Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, said organic growers see GMOs as "very unnatural."
"It's kind of like a never-ending cycle" with unknown consequences as plants are continually altered to be immune to chemical insecticides and bugs, Spacht said.
Ag interests split sharply over the GMO food issue, said Leon Ressler, district director of Penn State Cooperative Extension for Chester, Lancaster and Lebanon counties.
The pro-GMO camp is bigger.
GMO seeds began seriously shrinking the conventional seed market only about 15 years ago, Ressler noted. By last year, they accounted for more than 93 percent of the national soybean market.
In 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 73 percent of the nation's corn crop was engineered to be herbicide-tolerant.
"It reflects the benefits to the producer," Ressler said. "That's basically why people are doing it. The management of pests is easier."
Limiting judicial review would likely enable companies to bring GMOs to the market faster and more cheaply, Ressler said.
The president signed The Farmer Assurance Provision into law March 26 as part of a sprawling bipartisan government appropriations bill.
Inclusion of the GMO rider, derided by opponents as the "Monsanto Protection Act," sparked outcries from such unlikely bedfellows as Food Democracy Now!, Center for Food Safety and the Tea Party Patriots.
The American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation, among other groups, supported the provision.
Monsanto spokeswoman Kelly Clauss said in an emailed statement that the point of the provision is to "strike a careful balance," allowing farmers to use GMO products while the USDA "conducts any necessary further environmental reviews."
Geoff Finch, chief operating officer of Wenger's Feed Mill Inc., Rheems, said he's heard little discussion of GMOs among his customers.
"We generally believe in the science of GMOs, as long as everything is vetted and tested," Finch said.
Joel Frey, who raises corn, soybeans and pullets on about 400 acres near Conestoga, said farmers have to "trust the researchers and the people who are behind this stuff that it is safe. I personally don't have concerns with it."
Frey said GMOs cut insecticide use because bug resistance is introduced genetically in the seeds and permeates the whole plant.
"We are very appreciative of that kind of stuff," he added.
GMO critics are less so.
One problem associated with the technology, according to Spacht, the manager of the 80-member Farm Fresh Cooperative, is so-called "superweeds" that have evolved in answer to herbicide-resistant crops.
Another is contamination of non-GMO crops, he said. "Pollen drift from GMO corn is found miles away," he said.
He said a third, nascent worry is a potent new class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, which are commonly applied as coatings to GMO seeds.
Researchers at Purdue University and elsewhere have linked the pesticides to honeybee deaths, which were recently reported to have escalated drastically.
"Here in the U.S.," Spacht said, "we've kind of been complacent while they've been slipping these things in the food system. It's time to wake up and act."
nA new provision passed by Congress and signed last week by President Obama says farmers can continue cultivating government-approved biotech crops even in the face of legal challenges over their safety. The battle over genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, has united disparate groups.
"I don't see anything wrong with any of it. We're feeding the world cheaper than we ever did."
Letort Valley Farms
"Here in the U.S., we've kind of been complacent while they've been slipping these things in the food system."
Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative