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CALIFORNIA AT THE

CROSSROADS

The Impacts of Genetic Engineering 
on California's Agriculture

BY DR. DOREEN STABINSKY

Executive Summary

Export agriculture is a major segment of the California economy, and California's fruits and vegetables are the pride of the state. The state is also the leader in the production of much of the country's organic crops. A current campaign by the California Department of Food and Agriculture asks consumers to "taste the sunshine." But if current t rends in the genetic engineering of California's major export crops continue, the state's producers could be facing gathering storm clouds in their export markets and the potential collapse of its organic food industry.

Already, all over the world, U.S. exports of corn and soybean are threatened due to growing consumer rejection of genetically engineered (GE) foods. In European markets in particular, though not exclusively, consumers are voicing their desires to eat GE-free. U.S. soy exports to Europe dropped from 11 million tons in 1998 to 6 million in 1999; corn exports to Europe dropped from 2 million tons to 137,000 tons. Altogether this loss of export markets from 1998-1999 was worth nearly $1 billion.

Consumers in other export markets significant for California have voiced similar sentiments. In a recent survey by the Angus Reid Group, 82% of Japanese consumers said they were concerned about GE food. All is not well on the domestic front either. In the same survey, they also reported that "Americans are growing more disenchanted with the concept" of genetically engineered food, as they measured consumer negativity towards the new foods grew from 45% in 1998 to 51% in 2000. In 1998, the top five export markets for California agriculture were: Japan, Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom (UK). Over the past few years, companies involved in genetic engineering were altering California agricultural products that are major export commodities to those five markets. In this report we examine six of those: lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, walnuts, grapes, and rice.

Our major findings:

A large proportion of California's export market is represented by just six commodities -rice, walnuts, grapes, lettuce, strawberries, and tomatoes - in five markets - Japan, Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom. These crops sold in these markets account for $1.125 billion of California agricultural exports annually. Consumers, food companies, and governments in all those countries have expressed concern over genetically engineered crops. Their responses have ranged from the implementation of laws to label GE-food - as in the case of the UK, Japan, and South Korea - to consumer and environmentalists calls for a boycott of all GE food - as did the major environmental organization in South Korea. In the UK, virtually every major supermarket has declared its store brand products will be made without GE ingredients, and many are eliminating GE crops from animal feed used for their meat and dairy products. At the same time that consumers have held firm against genetically engineered food, the demand for organic has escalated. Sales for organic produce in the UK have multi-plied five-fold since 1996, compared to only a two-fold increase in the U.S. Yet awareness is growing in the USA. Even American companies such as Kellogg's have gone GE-free in Europe, although they continue to use GE ingredients in foods manufactured for consumption here.

Given the importance of organic and export agriculture to the California economy in general, and to California's farm producers and processors in particular, the agriculture industry should abandon current genetic engineering research and development that could jeopardize access to and acceptance in those organic and export markets, as well as an increasingly critical domestic market..

Greenpeace recommends that:

• commodity boards advise their growers against the use of genetically engineered organisms, and

• the California Department of Agriculture (CDFA) conduct a comprehensive review comparing the potential impact of GE on California agriculture with the potential for a growing organic agriculture sector.

Californians should insist that, at a minimum, the following issues be dealt with in a review by CDFA:

Herbicide tolerant crops:

• Californians should demand a full environmental and human health review of the effects of the additional chemicals released into the environment with the use of the genetically engineered crops, including new and greater uses of herbicides. The social costs to small farmers of increased dependency on agrochemical companies should be part of such a review.

Pharmaceutical rice:

• Californians should demand an investigation of the possible environmental and human health effects associated with escape of pollen from these 'pharm' crops, as well as other unintentional contamination during production and processing of rice destined for human consumption. Citizens should also demand an assessment of the harm to organic rice production.

Insecticidal plants:

• Californians should demand an investigation of the environmental and human health risks associated with these plants, in particular the speed at which insects will develop resistance and the direct threat to organic producers who use Bt as an organic pesticide.

California's growing organic sector:

• Californians should demand that state and federally funded land grant institutions focus research on truly sustainable and organic technologies that do not threaten markets for California exports.

• Californians should demand that the state enact legal protection for organic growers and food producers whose products are contaminated by GE, by holding biotech companies liable for any economic damage resulting from the use of GE seed..

Introduction

Markets at Risk

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All around the world, consumers are questioning the presence of genetically engineered (GE) food in their daily diets. The sentiment against such foods is strong in Europe, Japan and South Korea, and is growing in the United States.

Many of the destinations for California's agricultural exports include countries where there exists significant concern about GE foods. The top five California destinations include the United Kingdom (UK), where the outcry against GE has recently been the strongest, and Japan and South Korea, where labeling of GE food is about to become mandatory.i South Korea's largest environmental group is calling for a boycott of all GMOs.ii There are active consumer campaigns for labeling in the other two top export destinations as well - Hong Kong and Canada - and Hong Kong's legislature has called on the government to develop a labeling system.

Export agriculture is a significant component of the California economy as a whole, and is a significant source of revenue for the agricultural sector. Exports account for between 15% and 50% of sales of California's leading fruit, nut and vegetable crops. Use of GE crops in California agriculture is likely to threaten important markets. U.S. exports of corn and soybeans have dropped dramatically since producers here have started growing genetically engineered varieties of those crops, with our markets lost to those exporting countries willing to certify that their products are GE-free. U.S. soy exports to Europe dropped from 11 million tons in 1998 to 6 million in 1999; corn exports to Europe dropped from 2 million tons to 137,000 tons. Altogether this loss of export markets from 1998-1999 was worth nearly $1 billion.iv On May 18th, the Tokyo Grain Exchange began offering traders a choice of non-GE soybeans - on the first day of trading, buyers scooped up 914,000 tons, compared to 364,000 tons for GE soy.v Enough competition for fruit and vegetable exports is currently coming from Southern hemisphere producers such as Chile, and further loss of markets due to GE is a real possibility.

All is not well on the domestic front either. According to a recent survey by the Angus Reid Group on consumer reaction to biotechnology in food: "Americans are growing more disenchanted with the concept."vi Consumer negativity towards genetically modified foods in the United States has grown from 45% in 1998 to 51% in 2000. Even food industry polls trumpeted as showing U.S. support for biotech food show increasing concern among American consumers. An October 1999 Wirthlin Group poll of U.S. consumers showed declining confidence in biotech foods in every question, including an 11% drop in those who would say they would be likely to buy biotech food that tastes better or fresher, and a 12% drop in those who feel that biotechnology will provide benefits to them or their families in the next five years.vii A recent USA Today Weekend Poll asked: "Should it be legal to sell genetically modified fruits and vegetables without special labels?" 79% of readers said no.

Much of California's produce heads to supermarkets all over the United States, so consumer reaction to GE here should also be of concern to producers in California. At the same time consumer demand for organic has grown rapidly in recent years. The U.S. market for organics is currently $6.6 billion, up from $180 million in 1980. ix Therefore, it comes as a surprise that so many fruits and vegetables in California are currently being genetically engineered (see Appendix 1)..

Market Rejections

GE papaya - Two years ago growers began to plant a genetically engineered papaya in Hawaii. The trees are now bearing fruit, and foreign markets have been slow to accept the GE papaya. Japanese buyers used to purchase 40% of Hawaii's papaya - they are now paying up to 700% premiums for non-GE fruit. Canadian and European buyers were similarly wary of the new papaya. Some Hawaiian growers have reacted to these market demands by designing their own labels declaring their conventional fruit "Not genetically modified."

• According to industry insiders, GE-sugar beet seeds are ready for the market, but the farmers and beet buyers aren't ready for GE-sugar beets. Japan buys about 80% of the byproduct of beet sugar processing - beet pulp - and they've said they won't buy any GE product.xi One farmer noted that planting of GE beets might be "years away" because of the lack of markets.

• Korea's largest tofu makers recently said 'no' to GE-soybeans. They had been manufacturing tofu with GE-soybeans until that fact was revealed in the press, and consumers ceased buying their products. The tofu makers have filed a lawsuit against the organization that made the revelation, claiming a market loss of millions of dollars because of the drop in tofu sales.

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Genetic engineering and the threat to organic agriculture: California at the crossroads

Organic agriculture is a rapidly growing industry. In 1996, organic production accounted for approximately 1% of total U.S. crop production. As noted above, current retail sales top $6.6 billion per year, six times the amount sold in the early nineties. Since 1992, the U.S. branch of the industry has grown by over 20% per year; in California, average annual growth in organic sales between 1992 and 1998 was 15%.xiii There is no indication that this growth will slow any time soon. In the UK, the expansion of the industry has been even quicker; sales have multiplied five-fold since 1996. xiv This demonstrates the intensity of consumer reaction in the UK to GE, and will be a significant boon to California agriculture, as organic farmers there can expect to see their exports to the UK jump. California represents a significant share of the U.S. organic production. In 1997, California had 51% of the country's organic tomato acreage, 77% of the organic lettuce acreage, 72% of organic tree nut acreage, 96% of organic grape acreage, and 80% of the organic rice acreage.

Genetic engineering represents a clear threat to organic agriculture in California. Cross-pollination is a serious threat in most crops, and particularly in wind-pollinated crops like grapes, walnuts, and strawberries. Contamination of an organic crop with pollen from a GE crop will make the organic crop unsellable as such. Current small-scale field trials are already a threat to nearby farms, and the risk to organics will grow as acreage planted to GE crops grows. In 1999, a U.S. firm, Terra Prima, had to destroy over 87,000 packs of organic tortilla chips that they had exported to Europe, because testing on arrival revealed they were contaminated with GE corn. The contamination is believed to have happened by cross-pollination from a nearby corn field.

Other developments in genetic engineering also threaten the sustainability of organic production in California. Crops genetically engineered to resist pest attacks with their own built-in insecticide can lead insects to develop resistance to Bt, a safe and extremely effective pesticide, and one of the only pesticides allowed in organic production. If this happens, as many experts predict it must, organic farmers will suffer greatly. The current focus on genetic engineering of much publicly and privately funded research also directly affects organic farming. Huge sums of money are currently diverted away from research into sustainable and organic agricultural production systems, toward expensive, trendy genetic engineering. If these monies instead went to research into sustainable agriculture, we would no doubt see a significant reduction in pesticide use in California, rather than "more-of-the-same" herbicide-tolerant crops. 

In this report we review six crops of major economic significance to California export agriculture. Three of those - lettuce, strawberry, and tomato - are being engineered to tolerate increased doses of weed-killing chemicals - herbicides. We examine new GE strains of rice, and efforts not only to engineer tolerance to herbicides into the plant, but also to engineer human genes into rice for pharmaceutical production. Finally, we look at two perennial crops - grapes and walnuts - that are being engineered with various genes to confer resistance to insect and worm pests.

Greenpeace is concerned about the environmental and human health effects of these genetically engineered organisms released into the environment and the food chain, the potential impacts on California agricultural exports, and the threat to the growing organic agriculture industry. California is clearly at a crossroads. It can choose genetic engineering or it can choose organic agriculture. Both cannot coexist in the state .

Methodology

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To determine which crops were being considered for release on the California market, we examined the USDA field-testing database for engineered crops being tested in California.xvi We limited our search to those field tests taking place within the last two years - the 1999 and 2000 field seasons. We then relied on California export data available at the web site of the California Department of Food and Agriculture to deter-mine the important export markets. We looked for overlap between top export crops and crops undergoing current field-testing to select the six fruit, nut, vegetable, and field crops for analysis in this report: grapes, tomatoes, lettuce, straw-berries, rice, and walnuts. Finally, we focused our analysis on those traits that have been of primary concern to consumers and organic producers: herbicide-tolerance, pharmaceutical production, and pesticidal genes - snow-drop lectin and Bt toxin.

California Export Dependence

California's top 50 export crops bring in almost $7 billion annually.xvii These are significant earnings for the state, and as well, con-tribute nationally to partially offset a large negative balance-of-payments situation.xviii The six crops studied in this report are of considerable economic significance to California, representing close to one-sixth of California's agricultural export receipts (see Table 1).

Table 1: Value of selected exports to top five importing markets in 1997 

(Japan, Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong, UK) 

Crop  Total CA acreage  Total crop value - 1998
(in millions of dollars)
Export value to countries listed - 1997
 (in millions of dollars) 
All grapes (wine, table, and raisin)
  • wine
  • table grapes
  • raisins
270,000  2,403  239
238
122 
All tomatoes (fresh and processed)
  • processed tomatoes 
    (most exports are processed)
33,400  840  163 
Lettuce  135,000 1,114  113 
Strawberries  25,200  783  108 
Rice  500,000  266  90 
Walnuts 169,000  229  52 
Total     1125

 Sources : California Department of Food and Agriculture. 2000. 
A complete guide to California commodities. www.cdfa.ca.gov/kids/commodities /; 
California's top 20 farm products. www.cdfa.ca.gov/agfacts/1998_top_20_farm_products.html
Major California agricultural exports to each of the top 10 destinations in 1997. www.cdfa.ca.gov/statistics/top_ten/index.html  .

  This information can be further broken down to illustrate the crops of significance in par-ticular markets (see Table 2). Figures in the third column of the table also indicate when a country accounts for a large fraction of California's exports of a particular commodity.

Table 2: Top five export markets broken down by crop

(figures are from 1997 data)

Market  Target crops imported  Total value of target crops imported
(in millions of dollars)
Canada  Table grapes 
Lettuce 
Wine 
Processed tomatoes 
Strawberries 
Raisins 
Walnuts 
 142 (43% of table grape exports) 
98 (81% of lettuce exports) 
79 
75 
72 (61.8% of strawberry exports) 
26 
12 
(total $504,000,000)
Japan  Rice 
Processed tomatoes 
Raisins 
Wine 
Walnuts 
Strawberries 
Table grapes 
Lettuce 
90 (62.5% of rice exports) 
52 
44 (36.7% of raisin exports) 
37 
34 (22% of walnut exports) 
27 


(total $295,000,000)
UK  Wine 
Raisins 
Strawberries 
Walnuts 
Processed tomatoes 
112 (30% of wine exports) 
44 (36.7% of raisin exports) 



(total $176,000,000)
Hong Kong  Table grapes 
Processed tomatoes 
Wine 
Lettuce 
Raisins 
89 
11 
11 
11 

(total $130,000,000)

 

South Korea Processed tomatoes. 20 
Total export markets for six crops   $1,125,000,000

 Source: California Department of Food and Agriculture. 2000. Major California agricultural exports to each of the top 10 destinations in 1997. www.cdfa.ca.gov/statistics/top_ten/index.html  

 Just what traits are being engineered into these six crops? Does the engineering "improve" the crop, or just allow for the application of more of a proprietary weed-killer? Are there potential health effects associated with the engineered crop? Most important, are there reasons why consumers in other countries might decide to reject our produce if they find that it has been genetically engineered?

Table 1: Value of selected exports to top five importing markets in 1997

(Japan, Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong, UK)

Crop  Trait Company/Research Institution 
Grape  Bt and snowdrop lectin
 (in the same plant) 
UC Kearney field station 
Lettuce  Glyphosate tolerance
 Glufosinate tolerance 
Seminis 
Harris Moran 
Rice  Glyphosate tolerance
 Glufosinate tolerance
 Anti-thrombin, antitrypsin, 
serum albumin (human proteins for pharmaceutical production) 
Monsanto 
Aventis/AgrEvo 
Applied Phytologics 
Strawberry  Glyphosate tolerance  Seminis 
Tomato  Glyphosate tolerance Glufosinate tolerance  Seminis 
Aventis/AgrEvo
Walnut  Snowdrop lectin Bt UC Davis

Source: United States Department of Agriculture. 2000. 
Field test releases in the United States. www.nbiap.vt.edu/cfdocs/fieldtests1.cfm 



  Herbicide-tolerant crops: Second generation or more of the same? 

Herbicide tolerant vegetable crops currently being field tested in California

Brassicas (varieties not specified in the database) Carrots Cucumbers Lettuce Melons Peas Potatoes Tomatoes

Source: United States Department of Agriculture. 2000. Field test releases in the United States. www.nbiap.vt.edu/cfdocs/fieldtests1.cfm

The genetic engineering industry says that herbicide-tolerant crops are just "first generation" technologies, and claims that more consumer- friendly transgenics are on the horizon. But that does not appear to be the case with the new fruits and vegetables that may soon be com-ing onto the market. Many of the new crops currently being field tested in California are more herbicide-tolerant varieties that offer no consumer benefit. In addition to lettuce, toma-toes and strawberries highlighted here, herbicide- tolerant Brassicas (such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower), carrots, cucumbers, melons, peas, and potatoes are currently being tested in the fields of California.

The target weed-killers to which resistance is being engineered are glyphosate and glufosinate. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto's best selling chemical product, a popular weed-killer called Roundup. Monsanto currently markets several "Roundup Ready" crops that have been designed to work with their chemical herbicide, including soybeans, canola, corn, cotton and sugarbeet. Glufosinate is the active ingredient in herbicides such as Liberty, Rely, and Finale. AgrEvo makes Liberty and currently sells "Liberty Link" corn and canola.

Health effects

Neither weed-killer has a stellar record of safety, though both companies make much of their assertion that their weed-killers are less toxic than others on the market. Roundup is responsible for the third greatest number of pesticide- related illnesses among the state's agricultural workers, out of all pesticides used in the state. Glufosinate is not currently widely used in California, as it is a relatively new chemical and has not yet been approved for use on most crops.

According to the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticide Use: 

glyphosate-containing products are acutely toxic to animals, including humans. Symptoms include eye and skin irritation, headache, nausea, numbness, elevated blood pressure, and heart palpitation. ... Laboratory studies have found adverse effects in all standard categories of laboratory toxicology testing. These include ... salivary gland lesions, ... inflamed stomach linings, ... effects on reproduction..., and carcinogenicity. ... In studies of people (mostly farmers) exposed to glyphosate herbicides, exposure is associated with an increased risk of miscarriages, premature birth, and the cancer non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.xx. 

Glufosinate does not have a better track record from toxicity testing:

glufosinate chemically resembles ... a molecule used to transmit nerve impulses in the brain. Neurotoxic symptoms observed in laboratory animals ... include convulsions, diarrhea, aggre s-siveness, and disequilibrium. Dogs appear to be the laboratory animal most sensitive to glufosinate. Ingestion of glufosinate for two weeks caused heart and circ u l a t o ry failure resulting in death. Exposure of pregnant laboratory animals to glufosinate caused an increase in prematuredelivery, miscarriages, the number of dead fetus-es and arrested development of fetal kidneys.xxi

Increase in herbicide use

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Herbicide tolerant crops may lead to increased herbicide use. A recent analysis by Dr. Charles Benbrook, that looked at results from over 8,200 university field trials, found that "U.S. 'Roundup Ready' soybean farmers use more chemicals and see lower yields than farmers who grow conventional soy, and already, the first weed species have developed a degree of tolerance to Roundup."

In 1998, over 4.5 million pounds of glyphosate were used in California agriculture. xxiii With a simple calculation, some estimate of the potential increase in herbicide use from glyphosate-tolerant lettuce and tomatoes can be made. Recent data from lettuce production in California showed application of approximately 0.84 pounds per acre per year of glyphosate. xxiv Similar data from tomatoes shows application of approximately 0.79 pounds acre per year.xxv Both correspond to approximately one application per year. This use appears to be pre-emergent (before the crop seed germinates), as it is not presently possible to use glyphosate for weed control while the crops are in the ground. According to pesticide registration officials in California, the new crops will probably be treated with a similar application rate. This is no doubt a conservative assumption, as data from other Roundup Ready crops show the number of applications may be two or more per acre per year.

If we assume a 25% adoption rate for the herbicide tolerant crops, then we can calculate a predicted increase in glyphosate use with the adoption of herbicide tolerant lettuce and toma-toes by multiplying the number of acres of lettuce and tomatoes in current cultivation by the adoption rate (25%) by the application rate (lettuce -0.84 lbs./acre; tomatoes - 0.79 lbs./acre). We assume only one post-emergent application per acre per year. That simple calculation for lettuce gives about 30,000 extra pounds and for tomatoes approximately 6,300 pounds, or about 18 more tons per year of glyphosate entering the California environment - for two crops alone! 

This increased use poses additional risks for agricultural workers. Certainly, the overall increase in the use of pesticides will increase worker exposure to the chemicals. The industry does not, however, seem to consider worker expo-sure an important factor in their product development. According to Alison Morgan, representative of DNA Plant Technology Corporation, the developer of Roundup Ready strawberries, the reentry interval that protects workers from pesticide exposure would need to be as short as two days "to accommodate the two-times-per-week harvesting that is common in strawberries." xxvii  The current reentry interval for Roundup is twelve hours, so DNAP and Monsanto don't have to be concerned about having it shortened to accommodate this aspect of strawberry production, but this quote gives some indication that the motives of the industry aren't geared toward reducing worker exposure to pesticides.

California Rice - a not so golden future?

In 1997, the California Rice Growers Association (RGA) announced a new business relationship with a firm called Applied Phytologics, Inc. The RGA was near financial collapse in the early 1990s, due to a disastrous plunge in rice sales - from $300 million to $30 million annually by the end of the 1980s. They hoped this new business agreement would signal a new day for the rice industry.

But would it? Under the agreement, ultimately terminated for undisclosed reasons, API would have supplied genetically altered seed to growers. Rice from that seed would have been used for production of chemicals for the pharmaceutical industry, rather than for food. API continues to contract independently with growers to grow rice engineered to produce a number of dif-ferent industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals, including three human proteins: anti-thrombin, anti-trypsin, and serum albumin.xxxiii While production of such proteins in crops may eventually prove lucrative for a small number of farmers, most won't see any benefit because of the large amount of protein that can be produced on a single field. There just isn't that much demand for many of the proteins currently being engineered into plants.

Moreover, there are significant human health concerns about the production of human pharmaceutical proteins and other industrial chemicals, like detergent enzymes, in rice. Clearly such rice should not be eaten by humans. Yet there are many ways that rice intended for human consumption could be contaminated by drug-containing rice - starting from seed contamination in the hull of the airplanes used to fly seed onto fields, to mixing of the rice harvest in trucks, dryers, and mills. Industry insiders say that avoiding contamination is virtually impossible; at least one large rice processor is refusing all GE-rice in order to assure purity.

Other environmental effects of glyphosate and glufosinate.

Effects on non-target species

A recent European Commission report found harmful effects from glyphosate on non-target insect species. xxviii The report recommends postponing the decision to allow use of Roundup on Roundup Ready crops, such as glyphosate-tolerant fodder beet. The report states that "after application for the intended uses and in the correct man-ner, harmful effects on arthropods ... can-not be excluded." The arthropods affect-ed are predatory mites and parasitoids, important for the biological control of agricultural pests.

In 1995, researchers found that glufosinate use may also have important (negative) microbiological consequences. xxix Glufosinate may reduce beneficial species of fungi, while fungi that cause disease appear to be resistant to its effects.

Potential for groundwater contamination

The US Environmental Protection Agency classifies glufosinate as persistent, mobile in soil, and highly soluble in water.xxx This reinforces fears that glufosinate is likely to pose a risk of water contamination. Glyphosate and/or its main metabolite AMPA have already been found in groundwater in Denmark.xxxi

The genetic engineering industry maintains that segregation of pharmaceutical rice will be assured, that is, that it will never get into the general food supply, because the rice will be of such high value. But recently the biotech company Advanta Seeds 'unknowingly' sold canola seed contaminated with genetically engineered canola to farmers throughout Europe for two straight growing seasons. The GE variety was not approved for use in Europe, making it illegal to grow there. Farmers in the UK saw 12,000 acres of crop destroyed.xxxiv Closer to home is the recent case of contamination of Kraft Taco Bell taco shells with a variety of GE corn unapproved for human consumption.

This episode gives many consumers reason to doubt that seed companies and pharmaceutical firms can keep 'pharm' crops out of the food supply.

Up until now the biotech industry has stated that it is other farmers' responsibility to avoid genetic pollution from industry's crops. The industry has also insisted that separating GE from non-GE commodities is impossible. Any assurances that pharm crops will now be easily be kept separate cannot be taken as credible.

Other traits are also being engineered into rice, including tolerance to the herbicides glyphosate and glufosinate. xxxvii

Living pollution: Crop Contamination from Pollen

Most crop fertilization takes place through the transfer of pollen from one flower to another -generally assisted by wind or insects. When pollen from a genetically engineered plant fertilizes a non-GE flower, the seed that develops contains the trans-gene. So a tomato or a grape or a strawberry that develops from a non-GE flower fertilized by GE-pollen would have genetically engineered seeds. The fruit that develops around it, however, is derived from the original non-GE plant, and so would remain non-transgenic. As walnuts are actually the seeds of the walnut tree, and rice kernels are also the seeds, the entire walnut or rice kernel that results from a cross-fertilization event is transgenic.

Plants have evolved a number of different pollination strategies. Some, like tomatoes and rice, are mostly self-pollinated, that is, their flowers are designed so that each flower is most likely to polli-nate itself, rather than wait for pollen from outside to land on it. Outcrossing (cross-pollination) rates in these crops are quite low - 5% for rice xxxviii , up to 25% for tomatoes - but it is still possible. Other crops, like walnuts, are almost exclusively wind-pollinated. Strawberries and grapes are thought to be both wind and insect pollinated, though growers in California generally rely on wind pollination, rather than bring-ing bee hives into fields to assist in pollination..

Japan and GE

There is a significant reason for California rice producers to worry about the financial risks such engineering implies for their income. California exports more than half of the rice produced in the state - $145 million dollars worth in 1998, out of $266 million total production. xli And a significant amount of exports go to Japan - $90 million worth.xlii Japan has not been an easy market to open - the Japanese are very particular about their rice, considering the taste of California rice to be inferior to that produced in Japan, and they have been reluctant to put their own rice farmers in economic competition with cheaper foreign imports. There has been a long-term effort on the part of California and the U.S. to open up the Japanese market to rice imports.

All that effort could be for naught if Japanese consumers reject genetically engineered rice; if current Japanese behavior toward other U.S. genetically engineered crops is any indication, California producers will lose that hard-fought- for market. According to the most recent survey on consumer opinions by the survey firm the Angus Reid Group, anti-genetic engineering sentiment around the world is greatest among Japanese consumers, with 82 % of them having a negative opinion of GE foods. xliii As a partial result of that consumer sentiment, Japan has recently passed a law requiring the labeling of GE food, to go into effect in 2001.

Even prior to entry into force of that law, many Japanese companies have already announced that they will not use GE in their products. Kirin Brewery is sourcing non-GE corn for use in its beer.xliv According to Reuters, the Japanese corn starch industry is replacing at least half of its corn with non-GE varieties, and Japanese soft drink makers were looking for non-corn based sweeteners to avoid GE corn. xlv Tofu manufacturers consider it market suicide to use GE soy to produce their product. As the director Any wind-pollinated crop has the potential become contaminated by pollen from transgenic crops in nearby fields. There is little scientific data on how far pollen from these crops travel, but experts general-ly assume that pollen from walnuts can travel a half mile or more.

The same is true for bees that carry pollen from field to field - ranges of a mile or more are not uncommon for their foraging. While crops like rice and tomatoes may have much more limited pollen travel, there is still no definitive scientific data on average distances traveled for pollen in these crops either.

The Association of Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA) sets isolation distances for seed production in each crop, based on how far pollen in that crop travels, and how far different varieties must be separated from each other in the field to maintain a seed purity of greater than 99% (for corn, 99.9%; for rice, 99.95%). One of the performance standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture for containment of pharmaceutical-producing crops is a doubling of the AOSCA isolation distance. For rice, this would be 20 feet if the seed were drilled into the ground, 200 feet if applied by airplane. Achieving 99.95% seed purity and achieving 0% contamination of the food supply by pharmaceutical crops are, of course, very different goals. According to Norman Ellstrand, an expert in plant pollination from the University of California at Riverside: "It's just not clear that setting a double distance is going to solve everything." of the Tokyo office of the American Soybean Association noted in a recent interview, labels are "like putting a skull and crossbones on your product."

GE rice sold in Japan would need to be labeled, and there is every indication that herbicide- tolerant rice won't sell. And if the recent decision by Kirin Brewery is any indication of the mindset of food processors, it may not even be imported for use in sake production. Both the California Rice Commission and the Farmers' Rice Cooperative have recently adopted policies to segregate GE and non-GE rice. xlvii But policies are not practice, and, as noted above, industry insiders doubt that purity can be assured given the many potential points for contamination along the path from airplane seeding of fields to the final milling process. Segregation is meaningless if the rice is acciden-tally pollinated, or if seeds are accidentally mixed. The California rice industry will experience significant economic harm if growers assure the wholesaler, processor, or importer that the crop is GE-free, only to find out it has been contaminated. Given the significance of the Japanese market to California rice producers, it seems that the prudent course of action would be to reject the genetic engineering of rice, for any trait.

Plants as pesticides: Putting insect-killing chemicals into the plant

In 1997, the University of California at Davis started a field test of walnuts genetically engineered with the snowdrop lectin gene.l That same year, researchers with the University of California at their Kearney field station tested grape plants with the same gene on behalf of researchers at UC Davis and Dry Creek Laboratories, a private company.

Snowdrop lectin is being engineered into these plants because of its pesticidal activity. Wine, raisin, and walnut exports to the UK and Japan will certainly suffer if these engineered varieties are commercialized. Japanese and British consumers, among others, are questioning the safety of eating new proteins that have never been part of the human food supply, and that have not been tested for long-term effects on human health. According to the Angus Reid Group: "It seems that genetically modified food has become ... much more of a matter of health and safety in the minds of consumers we spoke to."

Insecticides and GE: Less is more?

Other grower organizations respond to GE.

        US Wheat is a farmer-funded organization that develops overseas markets for U.S. wheat. The group recently adopted a policy for identity preservation of wheat, years before GE-wheat is expected on the market. According to US Wheat, "even at this early point, there are some overseas customers who have already informed the wheat industry that they only want to purchase traditional wheat."

       Both the Flax Council of Canada and the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission have taken even stronger stances than wheat growers in the United States. They've called for the first GE-flax variety to be taken off the market completely. The pres-ident of the Flax Council of Canada was quot-ed as saying "Just do away with it - get it out of people's vision."

The biotechnology industry claims that genetic engineering will reduce pesticide use, and is using this rationale in a $50 million ad campaign to convince consumers that GE food is environmentally friendly. But evidence suggests otherwise. For example, from 1995, when insect resistant corn was introduced, to 1998, use of insecticides for corn borer control in the U.S. increased, leading a former director of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Agriculture to note that "clearly Bt corn has not reduced insecticide use, and indeed probably has and will continue to increase it."liv Furthermore, a recent report from WWF Canada questions industry's claims that GE will reduce pesticide use and warns that false hopes about GE will impede progress in truly sustainable pest solutions.

Land grant misdirection

Genetic engineering is a popular fad with university researchers. The University of California at Davis tree crops program has been active in genetic engineering since the beginning of the technology. The first transgenic walnut trees were put in UC Davis orchards in 1990. lviii So it comes as no surprise that they are continuing on the high-technology path, engineering walnut trees to make snowdrop lectin and Bt toxin. Engineering Bt toxin into walnuts appears to be the primary focus of the GE research program. This work raises two serious concerns. Organic walnut growers depend heavily on Bt to control their major pests: codling moth and naval orange-worm. By engineering the walnut trees with Bt toxin, researchers threaten the sustainability of this important low-toxicity pest control. By putting Bt toxin into all the cells of a tree, the selection pressure on the insect to develop resistance to the toxin is constant. Use of these GE trees could soon make Bt unusable for all growers, organic and conventional, once resistance builds up in insect populations.

A second concern is that organic orchards close to B t- or lectin-walnut orchards are at risk for genetic contamination - walnut flowers pollinated by GE-walnut pollen would produce genetically engineered walnuts, and the organic growers would not be allowed to sell those walnuts as organic. Organic walnuts fetch a hefty pre m i u m in the marketplace, so the economic cost of this pollution would be severe. It is likely that the g rowers whose walnuts shed the engineered pollen could be held liable for the economic damage. 

The University of California research at the Kearney field station into the genetic engineering of grapes, on behalf of UC Davis and Dry Creek Laboratories, is their only foray so far into grape genetic engineering. Researchers there are more known for their pioneering work on biological control of a number of key grape pests and pathogens. Grapes have as of yet seen little genetic engineering work - a survey of research projects funded by the Table Grape Commission and the American Vineyard Foundation shows little emphasis on genetic engineering in the projects they fund. Given the many successes of reduced pesticide use farming practices in grape production systems in California, this seems logical. Also, researchers in the wine grape industry note that there may never be an acceptance by wine grape growers of genetically engineered grapes, because of the potential effect the engineering may have on the quality of wine eventually produced.

Alternatives to GE exist.

Farmers in California are already finding ways to reduce pesticide use, while at the same time not threatening their export markets by using genetic engineering. California growers associated with the BIOS and BIFS programs (Biologically Integrated Orchard Systems and Biologically Integrated Farming Systems) have successfully reduced pest damage and pesticide use, while at the same time conserving soil and protecting wildlife, by maximizing their use of biological approaches to pest control and soil fertility.lvi 

The "whole-farming-system" approach of BIOS, BIFS, and related programs includes growing cover crops to supply nitrogen, man-age weeds, and provide habitat for the natural enemies of pests. Growers in the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission have reduced their reliance on pesticides by 50% through participation in the BIFS program. BIOS almond growers were able to significantly reduce their nitrogen use by increasing reliance on cover crops, and currently treat a large amount of their orchard area with Bt sprays instead of more-toxic alternatives. Beneficial insects and non-chemical controls for weeds are components of the Biological Agriculture Systems in Strawberries (BASIS) project in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, which started in 1999.

These highly acclaimed programs are spreading through orchard and vineyard areas throughout the Central Valley, in almonds, walnuts, wine grapes, citrus, prunes, and pome fruit (e.g., apples and pears), as well as rice and strawberries. They provide real examples of successful management of agricultural problems without resort to genetic engineering.

Controversy in the UK - lectins, rats, and potatoes

A controversy over the risks to humans of eating foods engineered to produce snow-drop lectin is credited with fueling the current anti-GE sentiment in the UK. In 1998, a researcher at the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland, Arpad Pusztai, went public with his findings that rats got sick when fed potatoes genetically engineered with the snowdrop lectin gene.lii In his studies, these rats showed impaired development of the liver, thymus, spleen and gut, decreased brain size, and weakened immune systems, while rats fed potatoes that had lectin added naturally did not show the same effects. The design of the study implies that the cause of the health effects might have been the process of genetic engineering itself, rather than the lectin. 

The Pusztai study raised significant safety questions. However, rather than investigating these questions by conducting additional experiments, the scientific community at large and the biotechnology industry attacked the study's methodology and Pusztai's decision to make his findings public. The end result is that the questions raised by his work are still unanswered. Moreover, there have yet to be long-term feeding studies demonstrating the safety of consuming plants engineered with snowdrop lectin, and British consumers are sure to be doubtful of any crop containing such a protein..

Not all Biotechnology involves Genetic Engineering

There are biotechnological approaches to solving agricultural problems that do not rely on genetic engineering, and thus do not involve the risks associated with releasing engineered organ-isms into the environment and the food supply. Some of these approaches show much promise in helping to address difficult pest and pathogen problems. One new pest-pathogen problem has reared its head in grapes over the last few years. A recently arrived insect pest, the glassy-winged sharpshooter, is a carrier of a deadly bacterial disease - Pierce's disease.lx Biotechnological techniques are being used to find approaches to com-bat the disease. These approaches are noteworthy in that genetic engineering is not presently the focus of the work. Instead, researchers are using a technique that combines molecular biology with conventional breeding - marker-assisted selection - to hasten their work in breeding resistance genes identified in the related species Muscadinia rotundifoliainto Vitis vinifera (wine, table and raisin grape) cultivars.lxi In this research, the benefits of molecular biology are being gained without the long-term environmental and human health risks associated with genet-ic engineering, not to mention the threat to wine quality and valuable export markets.

Conclusion

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A large proportion of California's export market is represented by just six commodities -rice, walnuts, grapes, lettuce, strawberries, and tomatoes - in five markets - Japan, Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom. These crops sold in these markets account for $1.125 billion of California agricultural exports annually. Consumers, food companies, and governments in all those countries have expressed concern over genetically engineered crops. Their responses have ranged from the implementation of laws to label GE-food - as in the case of Japan and South Korea - to consumer and environmentalists calls for boycotting of all GE food - as did the major environmental organization in South Korea. In the UK, virtually every major super-market has declared its store brand products will be made without GE ingredients, and many are eliminating GE crops from animal feed used for their meat and dairy products. Concern about genetically engineered food is also growing among consumers in the United States. Given the importance of export agriculture to the California economy in general, and to California's farm producers and processors in particular, the agriculture industry should look long and hard at current genetic engineering research and development that could jeopardize access to and acceptance in export markets.

 

 

Greenpeace recommends that:

Herbicide tolerant crops:

Companies involved in genetic engineer-ing argue that more consumer-friendly products of GE are on the way. But most of the next gen-eration of genetically engineered foods are fruits and vegetables engineered with first generation traits - including the extremely controversial trait of herbicide tolerance. Numerous fruits and vegetables are being engineered for tolerance to glyphosate and/or glufosinate; four of those crops are in the state's top twenty exports: lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, and rice.

Neither glufosinate nor glyphosate have untarnished records when it comes to human health and safety. Growing crops engineered to tolerate these chemicals means more of the weed-killers will be dumped into the California environment. An additional 18 tons of glyphosate may enter the California environment annually if only 25% of lettuce and tomato producers decide to plant herbicide-tolerant versions of those crops. Workers will suffer more pesticide-related illnesses if use of these chemicals increases.

Producers and commodity boards should focus on technologies that reduce or eliminate dependence on pesticides, rather than those technologies that lock in a farmer's dependence on chemical pest control.

Pharmaceutical rice:

• Californians should demand an investigation of the possible environmental and human health effects associated with escape of pollen from any 'pharm' crops grown in open fields, as well as other unintentional contamination during production and processing of rice des-tined for human consumption. Citizens should also demand an assessment of the harm to organic rice production.

Japan imports more than half of the rice exported by California farmers. Japanese consumers lead the world in their doubts about the benefits of genetically engineered food. They are sure to raise concerns over rice genetically engineered to produce human proteins. Efforts to engineer rice, particularly with human proteins not intended for general human consumption, are likely to severely endanger a hard fought-for market for California rice producers.

Insecticidal plants:

Table grape, raisin, wine and walnut exports all will be threatened if University of California researchers continue in their efforts to engineer grapes and walnuts to contain toxins that will kill insect and worm pests. Controversies surround both the Bt and snow-drop lectin toxins, particularly in the United Kingdom, where consumer sentiment against genetically engineered foods is great. Non-toxic, non-GE options for pest control exist, and are being showcased throughout the state with the Biologically Integrated Orchard Systems and Biologically Integrated Farming Systems projects.

California's growing organic sector:

As one result of the backlash in the United Kingdom against genetic engineering, organic agriculture sales have increased over five-fold in the last five years. California producers could capitalize on this increase in markets. However, organic producers in California will have their livelihood threatened if genetic engineering contaminates their products. This is a serious concern in wind-pollinated crops such as walnuts and grapes, but also an issue for any crops in the GE pipeline..

Appendix 1

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California nuts, fruits and vegetables field-tested since 1987 lxii

Apple, Brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, etc.), Carrot, Cucumber, Grape, Lettuce, Melon, Onion, Pea, Pepper, Persimmon, Potato, Rubus ideaus (a type of berry), Yellow squash, Strawberry, Tomato, Walnut, Watermelon.

Acknowledgements

Sincere thanks to the following persons who reviewed some or all of this report: Charles Benbrook, Ellen Hickey, Bryce Lundberg, Charles Margulis, Jeanne Merrill, Jane Rissler, and Beverley Thorpe.

References

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ii Mi-Young, Ahn. 1999. South Korea: 'Mutant' food on menu of WTO critics. Interpress Service news release. November 12.

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viii USA Today. 2000. Weekend poll. February 11-13.

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xviii Overall, the U.S. tends to import more goods than it exports. Agricultural exports help even out this trade imbalance..

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xxvii B y ron, Janet. 1999. Oakland company testing glyphosate-resistant strawberries. Pesticide & To x i c Chemical News. November 11.

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xxxiiGlover, Mark. 1997. Growing future: Local firm hopes rice deal brings fame, fortune. Sacramento Bee. March 4, page E1.

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xxiv Reuters. 2000. Advanta threatening UK government. News release. July 18..xxxv Fulmer, Melinda. 2000. Taco Bell recalls shells that used bioengineered corn. Los Angeles Times. September 23.

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xxxvii United States Department of Agriculture. 2000. Field test releases in the United States. www.nbiap.vt.edu/cfdocs/fieldtests1.cfm  [June 26, 2000]

xxxviii Outcrossing rates for rice in California may be much higher. Cool weather may induce male sterility, leading to higher amounts of outcrossing.

xxxix Pulito, Vito. Professor of pomology, UC Davis. 2000. Personal communication. July 31. xl Pollack, Andrew. 2000. New ventures aim to put farms in vanguard of drug production. New York Times. May 14.

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xlii California Department of Food and Agriculture. 2000. Major California agricultural exports to each of the top 10 destinations in 1997. www.cdfa.ca.gov/statistics/top_ten/japan.html  [June 27, 2000]

xliii Angus Reid Group. 2000. Significant knowledge gap in debate over modified foods. www.angusreid.com/MEDIA/CONTENT/displaypr.cfm?id_to_view=1039  [June 27, 2000]

xliv Reuters Financial Report. 1999. Kirin to end use of gene-altered corn in beer. August 24.

xlv Reuters Japan. 1999. Japanese to buy over 150,000 tons non-GM corn for December. December 8.

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xlvii Schnitt, Paul. 2000. Rice industry to set apart altered crop. Sacramento Bee. February 5. www.sacbee.com/ib/news/ib_news04_20000205.html  [June 26, 2000]

xlviii CropChoice News. 2000. Wheat growers call for segregation. www.cropchoice.com [July 1, 2000] xlix CropChoice News. 2000. Flax farmers want GMO variety off the market www.cropchoice.com  [July 28, 2000]

l United States Department of Agriculture. 2000. Field test releases in the United States. www.nbiap.vt.edu/cfdocs/fieldtests1.cfm  [June 26, 2000]

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lii Genetic Resources Action International. 1999. GM food turns political hot potato. www.grain.org/publications/mar99/mar992.htm  [June 8, 2000]

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liv Benbrook, Charles. 1999. Insecticide use on corn for European corn borer is increasing despite grow-ing use of Bt maize. Correspondence with author. May 25.

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lvi Schaefer, Kristen S. (editor). 1997. Learning from the BIOS approach: A guide for community-based biological farming programs. Davis, CA and Washington, D.C.: Community Alliance with Family Farmers and World Resources Institute. Online at: www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/bios/index.htm  ; University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. 1999. Biologically integrated farming systems fact sheet. www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/bifs/factsheet.htm  [June 27, 2000]

lvii Sewzey, Sean and Janet Broome. 2000. Growth predicted in biologically integrated and organic farm-ing. California Agriculture 54(4): 26-35.

lviii United States Department of Agriculture. 2000. Field test releases in the United States. www.nbiap.vt.edu/cfdocs/fieldtests1.cfm  [June 26, 2000]

lix California Table Grape Commission. 2000. Viticulture research, research summaries. www.tablegrape.com/rev99/index.htm  [June 26, 2000]

lx California Department of Food and Agriculture. 2000. Glass-winged sharpshooter and Pierce's disease. http://plant.cdfa.ca.gov/gwss  [June 26, 2000]

lxi American Vineyard Foundation. 1999. Genetics of resistance to Pierce's disease. www.avf.org/reports/9899v205.html  [June 26, 2000]; University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. 1999. A new pest transmitting Pierce's disease spreads in California; UC scientists study control of the insect and diseases it carries. http://danr.ucop.edu/news/JulyDec1999/pierces.html  [June 26, 2000]

lxii United States Department of Agriculture. 2000. Field test releases in the United States. www.nbiap.vt.edu/cfdocs/fieldtests1.cfm  [June 27, 2000]

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