Sunday, July 28, 2013

GMO Oranges Not a Good Idea

When my parents came to California from Pennsylvania in the early 1960's, the thing they could not get over was all the Oranges everywhere. When they were growing up, Oranges were a yearly treat in their Christmas stockings, now every day was literally Christmas in Southern California. We had several trees in our front yard and my father's pride and joy was to be able to pick them each day and make his own juice. We lived, in Orange County, so of course we had oranges in our yard.

When I lived in Redlands, this was the view from my window in the winter: spectacular views of snow capped San Bernardino Mountains with blossoming and fruiting citrus groves. I do not know what they did to the citrus out there, but it was some of the best tasting oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, lemons and limes I have EVER eaten, and I have literally been all over the world.

As I networked with citrus farmers in the area for Slow Food Redlands and my program Real Food Empire, I got to know the community well. These were upstanding families, there for generations contributing generously to the local communities. But they were very disheartened, working long hours, making if they were lucky a 10 - 15 thousand dollar per year profit on their crops. Every citrus season, these small independent farmers were madly trying to sell their crops, the oranges literally rolling down the streets of Redlands. Many farmers had turned to creative ideas such as offering on-line ordering, value added products such as marmalade and also working with local school districts to sell directly for school lunch programs. I learned that the orange crates that were sold to grocery store chains for $50.00 by middlemen, such as Sunkist, would only pay the farmer between two and five dollars per crate. Many farmers who had owned farms for generations were forced to sell their land bit by bit to developers in order to simply pay bills.

I heard one farmer at a local farm bureau meeting, his voice cracking as if he were going to cry, complain that the big grocery chains were importing oranges from China, South Africa and South America at cut rate prices with which he could not compete. For him, not only was this his business, it was his identity in the community. The thought that his neighbors would buy cheap oranges from a chain and let him starve was a deep, personal blow. 

The Asian Citrus Psyllid Pest which spreads Huanglongbing, also known as HLB or citrus greening disease  is decimating groves in Florida. The fear of this spreading across the nation caused panic in California growers. 

The Agriculture department was going door to door spraying private home trees, as well as farms where I lived in Redlands. The Organic growers were worried they would loose their certification. It was a mess to say the least, and all due to an industrial agricultural system.

In a recent article in the New York Times, we are hearing about the only solution to this pest and disease plaguing citrus is to "alter the DNA" of Oranges. (Psst that is code for GMO and well, you know how industry hates those letters us pesky citizens do not want to eat if we know about it, shhhhhhh)

 Amy Harmon of the New York Times reports:

"Oranges are not the only crop that might benefit from genetically engineered resistance to diseases for which standard treatments have proven elusive. And advocates of the technology say it could also help provide food for a fast-growing population on a warming planet by endowing crops with more nutrients, or the ability to thrive in drought, or to resist pests. Leading scientific organizations have concluded that shuttling DNA between species carries no intrinsic risk to human health or the environment, and that such alterations can be reliably tested."

Actually, that entire stream of consciousness is patently false, and in my book, something that is false is a lie. 

When you look at the argument, it is like a heroin dealer providing methadone that will harm the liver and kidneys as a treatment for addicts. The dealer is responsible for making the drug available in the first place and then offers another deadly choice as a solution to the problem he created.

The lies of the biotech industry are legendary, they are the same really as  big tobacco, illicit drug and armament dealers. They create the need for their products, and then supply them at great cost in terms of human lives and money. The mantra over and over and over again is that we have 9 billion people to feed on a climate changing world, and only Big Industrial AG has the solution. Brilliant marketing plan, trash the planet and resources, patent the solution, charge the heck for your products and sue anyone who's crops are polluted with the DNA of your supposedly safe and "Biologically Similar" products, and you are set for life in terms of marketing and loyal customer base. Big Ag Biotech even has the Supreme Court on their side.

Industrial AG is responsible for over two thirds of green house gasses, so actually just eating locally grown and produced foods from small local farms could solve climate change, but that would, well, take the arguments away from promoting GMO's now wouldn't it?

Big Agriculture is the problem. The industrial food system is the problem. The pest ravaging US Citrus groves would not have happened had there been a focus on local food systems instead of shipping in produce we do not need (we throw away 40% of what we produce here from farm to store to table) It is shipped here, because it is cheaper for chains, and the price drops hurt our farmers. 

The NYT article goes on the say that the US consumer is "spooked" by GMO's. Well maybe the US consumer actually is an informed consumer. There is no evidence that GMO crops can withstand climate change, there is no evidence that crop yields are better. There IS evidence that GMO crops need more pesticides and herbicides as they mess up the natural biological evolution of both pests and weeds.

I visited a farm in Dixon California, which will be a program soon so stay tuned The Farmer of Eat Well Farms, Nigel Walker, has been farming organically for 30 years. He has been on his property, which is a diverse mixture of row crops, vineyards, orchards, ornamental and culinary herbs and chickens, since 1998. He grows a year round CSA for over 1000 families on a 100 acres, while also supplying for several restaurants in Sacramento and San Francisco. Walker's experience is that by allowing a few weeds here and there, rotating crops and allowing chickens to live and feed on resting fields, he does not have to use even organic pesticides. He does not seem to have the need to spray anything. Why? Because his soil is rich, and his plants are healthy. Bugs, pests and disease do not bother healthy plants.

The consumer educational groups, meaning mom's who want to feed their children safe foods, have been doing a very good job. We the consumers are "spooked" by mixing animals, plant, bacteria genes with petroleum products and herbicide chemicals to create "food." We do understand, and the science is very sound. 

The problem is with a food system that depletes soil, that destroys small family farms for the sake of profit for large grocery store chains, that ships food all over the world, but does not give it to the hungry or poor in their own local geographical area. The solution for this problem is not in the laboratory, it is literally in your own back yard, in your food shed. 

Wicky Up Organic Orange Groves in Woodland, California

The fight for the public consciousness is being fought in very subtle ways. It is creeping in to public media with the sponsorships of big biotech Ag subsidizing Sesame Street and local NPR stations. It is influencing cable news and national newspapers. But we the public have the power, we are the largest lobbying group in the United States. We say NO to lab grown GMO foods, and YES to our local small farms. Big Ag and the Industrial Food System made the problem, but we bought it, we continue to support our addiction to fast cheap food. If we stop supporting this very sick system that has caused a crash of Citrus farming in Florida, we can truly heal our land, our economy, our environment and  ultimately our selves.

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