Letters to the Editor – 3/5/14

GMO follow-up

May I comment on the three issues Bob Jones raised in his column “Getting Sensible about GMOs”?

1) Pesticides: The two main GMO traits in use today – I don’t count disease-resistant Rainbow papaya, as it’s a small crop – are genes for RoundUp (glyphosate) herbicide resistance and genes to produce BT proteins.

By using a RoundUp-resistant corn, soybean, cotton, etc., a farmer can skip plowing and smoothing fields, which takes a lot of fossil fuel, and instead spray RoundUp herbicide on his field after his crop emerges in his unplowed field. No need to plow under weeds. Though some weeds will emerge, there will be fewer than on a plowed field, and he can spray the entire field without harming his crop. The crop gets a head start on the weeds that germinate later. He may not need to weed again that season.

BT, by the way, is short for Bacillus thuringiensis, bacteria that produces a protein that kills the larvae and adults of leaf-eating and boring insects such as corn ear worm or the corn root worm. Dipel is a popular insecticide used by organic farmers for more than 50 years that contains bacterial spores or the protein extracted from the BT bacteria. The gene to produce the protein is put into GMO varieties of corn, cotton, soybean and eggplant. Thus few to no insecticides are sprayed.

2) Proprietary seeds:These are not new. American vegetable farmers have been buying seed for well over 100 years. Once corn was produced as hybrids in 1933, farmers eagerly began buying seed of high-yield corn varieties. By 1944, more than 83 percent of corn planted in the U.S. was purchased hybrid seed. By the 1970s, more than 12 billion pounds of such seed was purchased by U.S. farmers. Our farmers are quite accustomed to buying seed, and seed is usually the smallest cost item for a farmer. Saving seed from hybrid plants is a waste of time because these seeds do not grow identical to the parent.

3) Food Labeling: Most food containing corn, soybean or canola contain some percentage of ingredients from GMO varieties. If you want to avoid food that is made with ingredients from GMO crops, buy certified organic.

It makes more sense to label food as “GMO free,” provided the GMO-free claim is proven by chemical analysis. Concerned folks desiring to label GMO-free foods is more comparable to labeling food as kosher (K) or halal (H) for concerned Jews or Muslims. If a food manufacturer wants to attract consumers who demand kosher- or halal-certified foods, the consumer via the food manufacturer pays for it.

H.C. “Skip”
Bittenbender, Ph.D.
UH-Manoa Extension

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