by Marion Nestle
Jan 3 2014

Winter Friday: a good day for GMO announcements

Two today:

General Mills: GMO-free Cheerios

General Mills says it will make a GMO-free version of its Cheerios cereal.  This is surprising because it says Cheerios’ oats have never been GMO.   Now, it will take extra trouble—and, no doubt, charge more—to make sure the GMO and non-GMO sugars and corn don’t mix.

USDA deregulates 2,4-D herbicide for GMOs

The USDA released its draft Environmental Impact Statement:

as part of its review to determine whether to deregulate genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybean plants that are resistant to several herbicides, including one known as 2,4-D.  [USDA] APHIS is performing an assessment of these GE plants, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting a concurrent review of the related herbicides.

…Dow AgroSciences’ GE corn and soybean plants are the first developed to be resistant to 2,4-D and are intended to provide farmers with new plants to help address the problem of weeds that have developed resistance to other herbicides.

Dow, which filed the petition for this action, is pleased.

Is 2,4-D safe?  The USDA says yes.

The National Pesticide Information Center sort of says so too, except that it lists plenty of reasons for concern, “possibly carcinogenic” among them.

Earth Justice points out that this action will allow farmers to douse fields with 2,4-D:

The potent and toxic 2,4-D has been linked to many human health problems. It also is likely to harm non-genetically engineered crops in neighboring fields, threaten endangered species, and ultimately lead to the development of weeds that are resistant to it, leading to even more problems.

Even more reason to buy and promote organics!

  • malachite2

    In another 5-10 years, it’ll be 2,4,5-T (which EPA never definitively de-registered, because Dow, et al, withdrew it) because somehow the TCDD also created just won’t matter compared to the “farmer’s needs for more tools”.

    It’s not even as if using GMO Round Up Ready et al, decreases pesticide use for more then a few years. After those years, MORE is used. But somehow Monsanto seems to own the USDA these days.

    There’s a shortage of “organic” milk because it’s too difficult for farmers to get non-GMO feed for their cows.

    So much for choice in the US.

  • mvdileo

    Organic pesticides and herbicides are not safe either. Sulfur, an organic pesticide, was the number one cause of farmworker injuries in California in recent years: Likewise, burning residue is a very effective and organic way of managing weeds and pests, but is terrible for air quality. Tillage works, though it contributes to topsoil erosion and aquatic eutrophication.

    Any practice has a balance of risks and rewards. This Organic myth that anything synthesized in a lab is more likely to be dangerous is preventing us from advancing sustainable agriculture as fast as we could otherwise. It’s true that weeds cannot evolve resistance to general biocides like sulfur and fire, but these Medieval technologies are not the best that we’re capable of. As an agricultural scientist who is focused on sustainability, I find it incredibly frustrating to hear people taking biased potshots at one useful tool while contributing (as far as I can see) nothing to our shared goal.

  • Lorraine Lewandrowski

    The fact that non gmo grain is very difficult to find and very pricey has not stopped activists from zeroing in on the farmers of rural NY, calling us GMIDairy or MonsantoMilk. It has been wierd watching NYC food activists cheer the removal of Chobani from whole foods while excitedly stating they will be buying Brown Cow (owned by Stonyfield of Dannon) hauled to NY from California. An organic dairy certifier told me a good portion of organic cow feed hauled in from China.
    BTW fully one third of NY farmland devoted to woodlots and perennial pastures contrbuting many ecosystem services. It is time urban food interested leaders take a look at the sweep of working landscapes. Only landscapes and healthy farm communities. Please… 2014.. Year od the family farm…2014… Year of food interested people as sustainers of landscapes?

  • Jennifer Skornik

    Now I can give them to my kids!

  • malachite2

    If the feed’s from China, I wonder how “organic” it is. I used to live in NY (years ago) & still visit (in LI & NYC)–I wondered why NY state didn’t seem to do as much as WI & VT to assist its dairy farmers and cheese makers. I still think NY state sharp cheddar is the best cheddar (& I live in OR now, i.e., Tillamook & Bandon cheddar).
    I wonder if there are any of the NYC activists you could get in touch w/to give them your side and try to enlist them in getting more organic feed grown in the US.
    One of the positive (and remarkable) consequences of the housing bubble in western OR, was that several “family” farmers went back to growing wheat, and are making the transition to organic. They were growing grass seed–the Willamette Valley was THE grass seed growing area of the US (maybe the world). When the housing bubble burst, there was far less need for grass seed (all those new “lawns”–as opposed to the wooded areas, etc. or the ecosystems you mention). A food co-op, along w/some bakeries & restaurants got together w/a few of the farmers (and someone in the area has a mill to grind the wheat). Because there was going to be sufficient buyers for their wheat to support the crop change, the farmers returned to growing wheat. Result is that, if I want, I can buy wheat at one of the food co-op stores, grind it onsite (small electric grinder) & bake w/freshly ground wheat.
    Not saying this is what the food activists can do, but it does seem as though they could play a role in assisting NY dairy farmers who’d like to go organic but can’t afford to–by assisting those farmers in finding or developing feed suppliers. I’m sorry they’re behaving like jerks instead.
    And I completely agree re: foolishness and excess energy consumptive approach of shipping yogurt 3000 miles and still saying it’s better for the environment because it’s “organic.” I like to buy organic or free range AND local, but admit that sometimes, if I have to make a choice, I’ll buy organic. Some of the small farmers/market gardeners in my area are probably growing organic (or close to it) but can’t afford the certification process. .

  • Hi Marion – I am really perturbed (understatement) by this marketing ploy of General Mills and their new non-GMO Cheerios. Whether or not Cheerios has NEVER been GMO is shifty. They say they haven’t changed their “formula” but have spent the good part of a year, as well as “significant investment” changing the sourcing of their ingredients (corn starch and sugar) to make original Cheerios non-GMO. However, these ingredients sit right next to GMO sugar and cornstarch in the very same factories which produce the other eleven varieties of Cheerios, which remain GMO products! (see their link

    As far as I’m concerned the best part of this ploy is that General Mills is bringing the topic of GMOs mainstream, to the breakfast table. I hope the conversation only gets louder.

    More on my opinion here:

  • Lorraine Lewandrowski

    General Mills PR is along the lines of the organic milk companies who slam the farm families as producing milk “full of growth hormones” when in fact the vast majority of dairy farms do not use growth hormones. Most never used in the first place in NY. The Stonyfield website says people can be assured of ” no industrial sludge” if they buy organic. I have never seen slydge application and it is actually prohibited in most farm mortgages. Anything goes when it comes to corporate PR. I see Organic Valley is one of the funders of Green America that is somehow steering the gmoinside campaign that tells consumers that NY farms produce GMO laden milk. And, Stonyfield stands to benefit financially. I urge you to promote truth in Big Organic advertising, too.

  • BeenThereDoneThat

    “Certified Organic” is nothing more than a set of arbitrary rules
    overseen by inspectors who are fully sympathetic to the organic producer
    (in most cases the inspector is a close family friend and in many cases
    the certifying agency is a closely held subsidiary of a large organic
    lobbying special interest organization — NOFA). With so many players in
    a rural environment subject to stresses from economics, weather and
    educational deficiencies of course rules will be broken, but seldom does
    an “organic” producer lose his/her certification for breaking the rules
    — that nice warm cozy relationship between producer, certifier and
    special interest lobby keep everything neatly swept under the carpet. When you buy “Organic” you just never really know what you are being sold.

  • malachite2

    Last time I checked, used of synthesized (and ultimately-oil based) pesticides & herbicides wasn’t “sustainable.” The first “green” revolution wasn’t sustainable, and led to the loss of many varieties of rice, etc., that had been developed by small farmers, or the loss of genetic diversity. That happened because, as is happening now. corporations such as Monsanto, wanted to dominate the market & sell their products.
    Since when does decreasing genetic diversity foster “sustainable” anything? Let alone agriculture.
    Now Monsanto is again decreasing genetic diversity–except for the “diversity” it owns. Unless you regard the mass planting of Monsanto-owned seed as somehow increasing the genetic diversity of , say, the soy plant.
    To say that people who are against GMO are against “anything” from a lab is just using a “black & white” argument, because it’s not one and the same. I don’t have a problem w/antibiotics-I do have a problem w/corporate ag’s overuse of them.
    Do I have a “problem” with the ingredients of Agent Orange (2,4-D and 2,4,5-T)? Yes, and so do many other people, both with those “lab created” components and with the TCDD contaminant (byproduct of the manufacturing process–or the one that Dow, et al, decided to use the most).
    There have been no long term peer-reviewed studies of the long term effects of GMOs on humans or other species or the environment. Except of course, for the superweeds. I guess we already had the super pests, created by overuse of other chlorinated hydrocarbons, etc., although I understand that thanks to Monsanto, et al, inserting Bt into at least one major crop, some pests are fast evolving resistance to that.
    And yes, I’m well aware that Bt is one of the allowed pesticides for use by organic growers and yes, I’m aware it can be harmful. Thanks to the GMO folks, soon it won’t be harmful to pests, something that a more SUSTAINABLE use (such as IPM, or organic) or use only when needed, might have avoided for many years.

    I got to see, first hand, at how “scientific” forest (or tree plantation) management worked in the coast range of Oregon. How NFS had decided (based on “best science” of course!) that alders were “useless” trees and weeds. What to do? Spray of course, spray herbicides (including Agent Orange) to get rid of those weeds and enable the Douglas Fir, the desired crop, to grow “better.” You can read “scientific” arguments from that time, stating the use of herbicides was necessary to help the Doug Fir grow.
    Much litigation later, turns out that some research demonstrated that red alder (species native to the area) not only fixes nitrogen but seems to generate some type of natural fungicide that retards spread/growth of a fungus that hampers the growth & health of Douglas Fir.
    Now it seems that the best “scientifically based” forest management practices, include having alder growing among the Doug Firs, and even planting native cedar as well. Because, it seems plant diversity in a “forest” (still more like a tree plantation then a forest) increases plant health. Who could have known?
    Maybe you should remember that what is considered to be the “best” science in a given field is sometimes as dependent on cui bono, as in other fields. What happened in the forests of the Pacific Northwest demonstrated that.
    I suggest you read some history–read what some scientists said about the safety of radiation, as in radiation from atomic bombs. Scientists aren’t wholly objective, good scientists know they don’t know everything about even their specific field. And Monsanto’s not a scientist-Monsanto is a for profit corporation.

  • James Cooper

    There is still absolutely no evidence the GMO crops pose any harm. Every major scientific association world wide has concluded they are no more dangerous than conventional crops, and thousands of peer-review papers confirm this.

  • “No more dangerous than conventional crops?” Why on earth would conventional crops BE dangerous, save for all the herbicides and pesticides sprayed on them? But of course that is another conversation. And I agree that full-scale, long-term GMO testing needs to be done. However, if they do not “pose any harm” and yet so many Americans still want their food labeled – as they obviously do, as so many people worldwide have shown they do – why not simply label it: “This product contains GMOs.” ?

  • James Cooper

    Long term testing has already been done. Approval of a new GM crop takes nearly 10 years, and there is not a single verifiable instance of GM crop being shown to cause harm. Over 3 trillion GM meals have been served as well, without ill effects. Labeling a product with a GM label serves to stigmatize the product, when it has been shown repeatedly that they pose no dangers.

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  • jazzfeed

    Bravo to ANYTHING or ANY INDIVIDUAL that promotes or benefits Green America and organic farms. It is a very good sign if Stonyfield is benefitting financially. Calling attention to this planetary plague needs to be supported. The seamless, back-to-back lies come from the biotech industry and lying is legal in mass media.

  • jazzfeed

    1. But is it certified by “Non-GMO Verified”?
    2. Do you really want to contribute revenue to General Mills, who donated $1.2 million to defeat the labeling of genetically modified crops in California and more to defeat labeling in Washington?
    3. It’s dead food anyway – the nutrient-to-calorie ratio is very low. You must be aware of the obesity epidmic in children, no?

  • jazzfeed

    BeenThere: You haven’t been here – READ THIS and get real: