Can Genetically Engineered Foods Ever Be Considered to be Organic?

In a message dated 12/14/02 12:03:58 PM, Alison writes:

Dear Rhio:

I am on your email list and also a reporter for the PARK SLOPE FOOD COOP GAZETTE. My current assignment is doing an article on whether GE foods, if grown without pesticides and under organic growing conditions, could ever be considered "organic," and if not, why not. Beyond the intuitively obvious response to this question, I would love to garner specifics as to how and why this would be an impossibility. Our readership is in the thousands or so. Any ideas or leads for me?

Also, I have been detailed for ongoing coverage of the organic standards and issue, so if anything else of interest comes your way, please keep me in mind.

Many thanks, and a wonderful holiday season to you!

Alison


Dear Alison,

There are a myriad of answers to your question.

One is that the Organic designation under the new Government Organic Standards could foreseeably change the rules to accomodate the special interest multinational companies who are foisting GE seed technology upon a largely uninformed US population. However, that would only signify that they had absconded with the word – organic – certainly not the concept of organic. In the current administration, most of the key players have either worked for or have investments in biotechnology firms. The agencies that are supposed to be protecting public health are wedded to the biotech industry instead and the Congress has been woefully negligent in passing any law at all to regulate this new technology. In twenty years, not one law has been passed. Instead the government is trying to regulate biotechnology under the existing laws which do not fit the situation. That's why we now have bizarre anomalies such as a GE fish that is regulated as a new "drug." It is possible that organic foods, as has happened in Europe, may be allowed to contain some percentage of GMOs – Europe 1%, Japan 5%, etc.

The concept of Organic to me (and a majority of other organic growers) means that a gardener or farmer is doing everything within his knowledge and ability to follow in the ways of Mother Nature. She is the teacher and the paradigm. Based on this, the meaning of the word organic (as it has evolved in reference to foods) could never allow for GE seeds/plants. The earth in all the years of its existence has never yet transferred an animal, insect, bacteria, virus or other alien gene into a plant's DNA. The fact that biotechnology has now made it possible for humans to destroy the integrity of Nature is an arrogant, disgraceful, disrespecful, abominable development and the steam that is running it is strictly financial. Without the financial incentive and the drive to own and control all the seeds, therefore foods, in the world, there would be no reason to tamper with Nature's magnificent systems.

In a far away future, when and if humanity could develop a little humility and reverence for Nature and life, it may be possible to discover some of her secrets, but not with the crew that is working on it at present. Check out the name, Craig Ventner, for the worst case actual scenario. Craig Ventner developed a GE pig that was huge – so huge in fact – that its legs could not even hold it up. Craig Ventner is now, with our money (a grant from the US government) trying to clone a human life.

The two genome projects, one private, one governmental, that set out to map the human genome, ended up with a lot more questions than answers. The previously "scientific" assumption that there is a gene that governs every aspect of a body-mind, from the color of our eyes to the inclinations of our spirit – were proved to be WRONG because the number of genes that a body possesses does not cover it and indeed the number of genes in humans is not so different than the number in a simple fruit fly. So with that theory knocked down, the scientific community is back to square one in its understanding of this magnificent body and earth that we live in and on.

So again, in an enlightened humanity – I would not be against proceeding in a cautious way to understanding genetics. In the present situation, we have irresponsible genetic manipulation that is tantamount to a toddler playing with a loaded gun.

In practical issues, the organic farming community's produce is threatened with the contamination of GE pollen drifting over onto their fields. As an organic urban gardener for all my life and now as a new organic farmer (24 acres Upstate NY) I am going to be facing the same situation facing all organic farmers everywhere if they are surrounded by other farmers planting GE. It is grossly unfair for others – especially corporations like Monsanto – to deprive me of the type of plants that I want to plant, grow, eat and share with others.

There are a few books that I can recommend to you. One I just finished reading really helped me understand the chromosome chain, DNA and other information that is kind of difficult for laymen, like me, to understand. It is called Farmageddon, Food and the Culture of Biotechnology by Brewster Kneen. There are numerous good books on the subject, another is Changing the Nature of Nature (can't remember the author offhand).

Although I am far from an expert in this area, I have tried to make GE manipulation of seeds/plants understandable to myself and have therefore broken the information down into everyday people language. After attending a myriad of lectures where the "experts" talked over my head, I finally got a good grasp on the issue, at least from the perspective of a Nature loving person.

I hope I have answered some of your questions. A good speaker on the subject is an environmental public policy lawyer by the name of Andrew Kimbrell. Also there are some leads on my website links section (under Biotechnology) for organizations that are working on different aspects of GE.

I would be interested in doing a presentation on GE Foods at the Coop. Can you put me in touch with the right person to talk to?

Thanks,

Many blessings to you for the Holidays and way beyond.

Rhio


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