Organic View - An e-mail publication of the Organic
Consumers Association

The Organic Consumers Association is affiliated with the
Campaign for Food Safety

v. 1 n. 5

1. Outcry Forces Change of NAS Committee
2. Organic Odds and Ends
3. Book Review: Against the Grain
4. Organic Answers: What are Organic Seeds?
5. Prince Charles on Organic


1. Outcry Forces Change of NAS Committee

In March, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) announced
the formation of a committee to study genetically engineered
Bt crops (these engineered crops threaten to render useless
an important tool for organic farmers, Bt sprays). But in
April, the Committee was forced to backpedal after receiving
several hundred comments from individuals and organizations,
charging that the Committee was stacked with members who had
a pro-biotech bias.

A letter to the Committee, signed by over 20 organizations
including the Campaign for Food Safety, Greenpeace, and the
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, detailed the
Committee's shortcomings: "We are concerned that the
Committee membership currently includes no members from the
wide pool of well-qualified scientists in the public
interest community who have expressed concern about the
risks of these genetically-altered crops. In addition, the
committee does not include a public interest regulatory
lawyer, a rural sociologist, a farmer or sustainable
agriculture specialist. If these omissions are not corrected
by balancing the committee with several such critical
voices, the NAS will appear to be taking sides in this
debate, rather than contributing worthwhile scientific
guidance. We do not wish to see NAS substantially diminish
its credibility with the public, which is increasingly
concerned about this new technology."

In response to the public criticism, the NAS Committee has
appointed a prominent biotech critic Rebecca Goldburg, of
the Environmental Defense Fund, and at least one university
professor, Brian Staskawicz of University of California at
Berkeley, has stepped down because of potential

The Committee was set up to address regulatory concerns
surrounding genetically engineered Bt crops, including corn,
cotton and potatoes. As detailed in Organic View 3, the
naturally-occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis
(Bt), is used as a non-toxic pesticide by at least 57
percent of organic farmers. Used sparingly as a spray
pesticide by organic farmers, Bt does not have detrimental
effects on mammals, birds or non-target insect species and

The threat from engineered Bt crops is that pests controlled
by Bt will become resistant to the transgenic varieties in a
relatively short time period - possibly as soon as two
years. A central priority for organic farmers is to minimize
all potential for Bt resistance, by using Bt spray only as
an emergency pest control option. If insect resistance
should occur, Bt sprays would become ineffective.

The Environmental Protection Agency is currently developing
regulations for genetically engineered plant pesticides
which would include set aside areas to diminish the
opportunity for pest resistance. The NAS Committee will
offer recommendations in around eight months on how
engineered Bt crops should be regulated.

2. Organic Odds and Ends

* OCA National Field Director Debbie Ortman is maintaining
an e-mail listserve - OCA Weekly Update/Action Alerts - that
has a variety of organic relevant information and additional
opportunities for activism. If you would like to sign up,
e-mail Debbie at:

* OCA member Holly Middleton, in Marin County, California,
is interested in putting together a school curriculum around
organic food production. If you have any information about
similar efforts, or know of an existing curriculum that
covers organic food, please e-mail thoughts or ideas to

* The Union of Concerned Scientists has published a new
guide titled, The Consumer's Guide to Effective
Environmental Choices by Michael Brower, PhD, and Warren
Leon, PhD. The Consumer's Guide offers the first
comprehensive look at a full range of modern consumer
activities, identifying those that cause the most
environmental damage. According to the Guide, the
consumption of conventional meat (second) and produce/grains
(third) were after only the automobile in causing
environmental damage. "People can help the environment by
buying organic foods," says Brower. For more info:

* The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI)
issued a report earlier this month detailing dozens of
patents for so-called genetically engineered "Terminator"
seeds. RAFI reports that every biotech multinational has
patented, or admits it is working on genetically-sterilized
or chemically-dependent seeds. The Terminator technology
spells disaster for farmers because over three quarters of
the world's farmers depend on farm saved seed. The removal
of farmers from the age-old process of plant breeding
through sterilized seed could signify a disastrous narrowing
of the genepool. For more information:

3. Book Review: Against the Grain: Biotechnology and the
Corporate Takeover of Your Food
, by Marc Lappe, Ph.D and
Britt Bailey, Common Courage Press, 1998, 175 pages.

By Tim King, Maple Hill Farms, Long Prairie, Minnesota

"We are on the cusp of a major revolution in the way we grow
our crops, a revolution fueled by biotechnology and driven
by multinational corporations. This revolution is unique
because it entails the first major agricultural
transformation of food crops based entirely on genetic
engineering. It is also remarkable from a sociological
perspective. Many of the key innovations have occurred
behind academic and corporate doors with little public
input." So begins the brave and well-written "Against the
Grain: Biotechnology and the Corporate Takeover of Your

As a journalist and a reader I found Marc Lappe's and Britt
Bailey's small book a pleasure to read. As an organic market
gardener, an eater and a citizen it served well to fuel my
already significant anxiety on this complicated subject. If
you have an opinion, pro or con, on the subject of
genetically engineered food I suggest you read this book.
It will sharpen and clarify your thinking. It will also
allow you to be a better citizen.

Take BXN (Bromoxynil-Resistant) Cotton for example. You may
be wearing clothing made from it. This genetically
manipulated crop was fabricated by Calgene in 1995. Seed
from these cotton plants contains a gene from a bacteria
that detoxifies the herbicide bromoxynil, an herbicide
marketed by Rhone-Poulenc under the brand name Buctril.
Normally bromoxynil stops photosynthesis in plants. But not
on BXN Cotton. The bacteria gene reduces bromoxynil to
relatively benign carbolic acid and something called DBHA.

"DBHA has been found by Rhone-Poulenc's toxicity testing to
carry comparable toxicity to its parent compound," Lappe and
Bailey's review of USDA's documents found. "Cotton slash,
gin mill leavings and related cotton detritus are widely
used in animal foodstuffs, making up to 50 percent of
traditional silage. Cotton seed oil is also widely used as a
direct human food and cooking additive. In all three forms,
we believe residual toxicity from DBHA poses a substantial
and largely unmeasured risk," the authors write.

The authors establish that genetically manipulated crops are
a food safety concern in other chapters of the book. In
chapter four, "Are We Ready for Roundup Ready Foods", they
acknowledge that glyphosate, the main ingredient in
Monsanto's herbicide Roundup may not be environmentally
benign as its manufacturers suggest. One of the inert
ingredients of the herbicide is POEA, which has been
successfully used for suicide in Taiwan, the authors note.

Additionally they cite research that showed that high levels
of glyphosate fed to lab animals harmed their livers thereby
likely reducing the livers detoxifying capacity. Finally
they suggest that the ubiquitousness of Roundup Ready
technology in corn, soybeans and cotton may bring about an
increase in the already long list of debilitating food
allergies. Roundup Ready like BXN cotton relies on, in part,
a gene from a bacteria.

Food safety is not the authors' only concern. Against the
Grain addresses ecological and broader social issues as
well. It is a resounding condemnation of the careless greed
of the companies so rashly pursuing the highly profitable
technology. And it takes to task the corporate handmaidens;
government and academia. Against the Grain is an empowering,
politicizing and well researched good read.

Lappe and Bailey assert that the development of genetically
manipulated food technologies behind the closed doors of
academic and corporate America is somehow unique.
Unfortunately keeping Americans in the dark about
technologies that would be rejected in an open and informed
referendum is as American as apple pie.

(If you have ideas of books that should be reviewed in
Organic View, or would like to review a new book, please
e-mail to:

4. Organic Answers: What are Organic Seeds?

Spring has sprung. And for many of us, it's a time for
planting our gardens. It is one thing to grow organically,
but what about the seeds we use - should they be organic?
The below short article from Seeds of Change
( sheds some light on this issue.
OCA's website has a list of organic seed producers,

From, "The First Link in a Safe-Food Chain: Certified
Organic, Open-Pollinated Seed"

"The most fundamental component of a vibrant and healthy
food system is the assurance of a continual supply of high
quality seeds. The humble seed is one of the great miracles
of the universe. These neatly packaged, highly organized
bundles of germplasm ensure the survival of most plant
species that have ever existed on earth. They are a
reflection of human values and cultures as a result of our
intervention into the world of plants over the last many
thousands of years. . .

Ironically, production of organically-raised seeds has
lagged considerably behind production of organically-raised
grains, vegetables and herbs. This is largely because the
organic food-buying public has been very concerned about the
food it consumes directly, but the seeds used for planting
these crops has been given little consideration because it
is not consumed. Since only a tiny fraction of our
population is directly involved in farming, we are not aware
of the agricultural cycle of which seeds are an integral
part. Currently, almost all of the seeds produced in the
commercial seed trade rely heavily upon inputs of chemical
fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides that
have toxifying, disruptive effects on soil ecology and
contaminate our groundwater and our bodies. The amount of
chemical inputs used in growing seeds is proportionately
greater than that of producing food crops because seed crops
takes longer to ripen and must mature and dry in the field.
Thus they are exposed to more pests, more competition from
weeds, and have additional nutrient demands requiring
greater use of chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
. .

Many crops are dependent on an active bee or other insect
population for pollination to occur. Therefore the grower
must provide a good habitat such as hedges of trees and
shrubs and an abundance of flowering plants to support a
healthy insect community. Pollination, however, may still be
poor or insufficient if the weather is too hot, cold, wet or
dry. There are also parasitic mites and various diseases
that have significantly reduced bee populations leading to
pollination failure. Luckily, pollination usually does
occur, although care must be taken to keep a variety
sufficiently isolated from other varieties of the same
species to prevent cross-pollination and potential mix-up of
the "lines" . . .

An open-pollinated plant variety is one in which pollination
is carried out by wind, insects, or other naturally
occurring agents. The seed saved from an open-pollinated
variety can be grown in subsequent years and will breed true
providing that it does not cross-pollinate with another
variety of the same species. During the process of
open-pollination, pollen is constantly being exchanged among
dozens, hundreds, or thousands of plants that all generally
look similar but are slightly different genetically. This
vast mixing of genetic material maintains the overall vigor
of a particular variety or strain. Since seeds, like all
living entities, do not remain static, a few individuals
(usually less than 1%) of an open-pollinated population will
be phenotypic "off-types" (i.e. they don't look like the
other plants) which are essentially random,
naturally-occurring mutations and of which a few may become
appropriate adaptations for future generations. This
phenomena further enhances variety diversity and vigor.

Anyone who grows open-pollinated plants has the capability
of saving their own seeds. In fact, if a gardener
perseveres, they may be able to improve the variety for
better adaptability to their specific climatic and
soil conditions. Ultimately, the process of saving and
growing seeds leads to real food security, biodiversity,
sustainability, and a healthier world."

5. Prince Charles on Organic

From 1998 Soil Association Organic Food Awards, October 28,

"It is now 14 years since I first suggested that organic
farming might have some benefits and
ought to be taken seriously. I shall never forget the
vehemence of the reaction - much of it coming from the sort
of people who regard agriculture as an industrial process,
with production as the sole yardstick of success. The only
difference today is that they now see genetically modified
crops as the means of achieving their aims. . . . The demand
for organic food is growing at a remarkable rate. Consumers
have made it clear that they want organic produce and every
sector of the food chain is responding, with the kind of
results we have just seen. I am told that sales of meat,
vegetables and milk are expected to double in the next year,
and other sectors won't be that far behind. . .

And we shouldn't forget that organic farming simply won't
suit every farmer. To start with, it involves operating in
more traditional ways. A nasty word that - tradition -
(rather like mentioning God in articles on GMOs!) it makes
certain people become apoplectic, as if it meant the end of
"progress" .... But the sort of tradition I am referring to
involves respecting Nature's limits and accepting a number
of restrictions in the name of sustainable husbandry. It
also means actively promoting the health of crops and
livestock, rather than merely just suppressing disease."

For more, go to: