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Midwest farmers share experiences of how GMOs alter market

(Sunday, Sept. 26, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Amanda Schoenberg, The Register-Pajaronian, 09/23/04:
Sounding a warning bell about potential risks of genetically modified organisms for both consumers and farmers, GMO opponents spoke to about 20 locals Tuesday at the Green Valley Grill about their experiences in the corn, soybean and rice industries.

The five-county California speaking tour, co-sponsored by the National Family Farm Coalition and the Californians for GE-Free Agriculture coalition of farmers and consumer organizations, focuses on the Midwest experience with GMOs.

Although only 2 percent of California's more than 350 crops are genetically engineered, strawberries and lettuce could be affected within two to five years, Californians for GE-Free Agriculture campaign coordinator Renata Brillinger said.

The USDA has approved 82 genetic engineering field trials for lettuce, with most in California, while 42 different trials study strawberries. About 50 percent of cotton in California is genetically modified, Brillinger said.

To form genetically engineered crops, scientists splice genes from plants, bacteria and animals into seeds. GMOs appeal to some farmers because they can produce crops with built-in insecticides or that resist common herbicides.

The most common GMOs are soy, corn, canola and cotton, Brillinger said, and the Grocery Manufacturers of America has estimated that more than 70 percent of processed food in the United States has genetically engineered ingredients.

If biotechnology companies have their way, rice will be the next big commodity GMO, Brillinger said. The Bayer Corporation received federal approval for liberty link rice, which was modified to withstand its glufosinate-based liberty herbicide, but awaits state approval.

Dan McGuire, policy chairman of the American Corn Growers Association and director for the Farmer Choice-Customer First program on GMOs, owns a 320-acre soybean and corn farm in Nebraska. McGuire told conference participants that he does not allow genetically engineered crops on his land.

His presentation focused on the lost income for corn farmers because international clients, representing 20 percent of the U.S. market, often refuse genetically engineered products.

From 109 million bushels of corn exported to Europe before GMOs entered the U.S. market in 1996, U.S. farmers now send about half a million. Prices have dropped from $3.20 per bushel in 1995 to as low as $1.80 this year, McGuire said.

"A corn price reduction of $1 per bushel costs U.S. farmers $11 billion on the farm value of the 2004 crop alone," McGuire said.

"U.S. farm policy has failed miserably," he said. "Farmers are stuck in a policy we oppose. Wheat and rice have the luxury of learning from corn."

California rice farmer Ron Lee voiced concerns about the 65 percent of California rice being exported to Japan, Taiwan and Korea, all of which have mandatory GMO labeling requirements. Rice growers would have to increase spending on the costly separation of GMO products throughout production if genetically engineered rice is allowed.

George Naylor, who has grown corn and soybeans on his Iowa family farm since 1976, told locals that farmers had been tricked by agronomists who claimed GMOs had been tested and regulated.

Separating his crops from GMOs, especially given corn's susceptibility to cross-pollination, is becoming increasingly expensive, and even organic seeds have been contaminated by GMOs, he said.

Farmers using GMOs are not required to inform their neighbors, and the only recommendation to avoid contamination is to construct a 1,000-foot border, which could eliminate entire fields for small farmers, Naylor said.

Organic grower and chairperson of the California Certified Organic Farmers Vanessa Bogenholm, who attended the conference, said she was especially concerned about contamination of local organic farms by GMOs, given that farmers do not have to report GMO production.

Local organic farmers are pushing hard in favor of four county initiatives banning GMOs in California and for labeling all genetically engineered products, Bogenholm said.

"If there's nothing scary in there, why not label?" she asked.

Naylor advised California growers and consumers against buying into genetically engineered plans for California.

"If the system ain't broke, don't try and fix it," Naylor said. "Don't listen to people who don't have concerns for the consumer, the environment or the farmer."

Source: http://www.zwire.com/news/newsstory.cfm?newsid=12983131&title=%3CP%3ETouring%20speakers%20raise%20GMO%20concerns&BRD=1197&PAG=461&CATNAME=Top%20Stories&CATEGORYID=410