“Agent Orange” Corn

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are making headlines this week as the federal government moves towards approving another crop that is modified to resist herbicides. But this time, the herbicide is not the catchily-named, consumer-friendly Roundup ™. Instead, it is 2,4-D, which some people remember as one of the ingredients of the infamous Agent Orange defoliant used in Vietnam.

The comment period for approval of 2,4-D resistant corn ends on Friday, and anti-GMO and sustainable agriculture groups are making a strong push to generate opposition to it. You may have received an email alert telling you to “just say no to Agent Orange corn”.

There are many reasons to oppose 2,4-D corn, so it’s unfortunate that the groups running the effort decided to pull the AO card. The highly carcinogenic herbicide in that product was not 2,4-D but another ingredient that has now been banned. Screaming “Agent Orange” in a discussion about 2,4-D makes GMO opponents look ignorant and the groups organizing them deceptive. If you are planning to send an email to the government on this issue, please leave “Agent Orange” out of it.

A coalition of agricultural groups is offering a set of much more pragmatic reasons why the government should not allow the release of the 2,4-D corn. But perhaps the best reason of all might be the reason many farmers want to plant it: several virulent weed species have developed resistant to Roundup due to the extensive use of Roundup Ready corn. Back when Monsanto released the corn, they downplayed claims that it would speed development of weed resistance and promised they had protocols in place to prevent. They were wrong and they failed. They are now making the same claims about 2,4-D corn. Why will they be right this time?

Any good weed control scientist will tell you that chemicals alone cannot control weeds in a farm field. One of the primary methods of doing so historically has been crop rotation. Yet most farmers who grow Roundup Ready crops are not rotating: they grow RR corn two years and RR soybeans another.

Monsanto and other GMO companies also claim that their products reduce chemical use. This is simply a lie. Roundup Ready crops have resulted in dramatically higher usage of…you guessed it, Roundup, at the expense of other chemical companies’ herbicides. 2,4-D corn will have the same effect on the use of 2,4-D, which is produced by Dow.

Farmers have moved away from using 2,4-D because it is an old chemical with lots of problems. It has a nasty tendency to get into groundwater and tends to stay in the soil for too long, and as a result is highly restricted in California. It also tends to drift a long way and readily damages other crops when it does. A neighbor of ours sprayed it in an orchard a mile away from us last year and was required to inform all the surrounding farmers of the application, in case damage were to result. Had our crops been effected, he would have been held responsible.

I have never been philosophically opposed to the genetic modification of crops, and I have real concerns that the laws prohibiting GMOs in organic food are going to end up making it difficult or impossible to grow certain crops in certain areas organically. For example, a researcher in Texas recently developed citrus varieties the are engineered to resist the Asian Greening Disease that is wiping out citrus groves throughout Florida and which recently showed up in Southern California. The resistant genes come from spinach. I believe this is a responsible, sustainable and appropriate use of genetic modification. 2,4-D corn is not.

If you want to make your opinion on this issue heard, you can submit comments by Friday, April 27th using this form letter by the Center for Food Safety that sticks to the facts (even though it does have one Agent Orange reference). 2,4-D corn is bad enough that opposition to it doesn’t need to resort to name calling.

Pablito

In Your Boxes

You’ll find plenty of Spring in your boxes today, as three days of hot weather up here pushed a number of crops out of low gear and into a higher one.  First, there are Strawberries for everyone — the start of what we hope will be a bountiful season.  As I’ve already mentioned, the plants this year are absolutely loaded.  Too much rain or heat can put a dent in the season, but overall we are optimistic.  As soon as we have more fruit, Medium and Large boxes will get an extra basket and we will make half flats and full flats of berries available for purchase.

It’s also time to cut the first of our spring Salad Mix, a stripped down version with baby lettuce, arugula, spinach and some baby red russian kale.  Spring is not a great time to grow full sized cooking greens in Winters, but salad greens grow beautifully and we’ll have some combination of them in your boxes each week.

Snap Peas in our second planting, which escaped frost damage, are beginning to ripen and we have enough for all subscribers today.  We are also harvesting a tiny amount of Shelling Peas, which are in today’s Large boxes.  If you’re not sure which is which, simply pull one out of each bag and bite into it.  If it cracks in half and is crunchy and tender, it’s a Snap Pea and you can eat everything except the strings.  If it’s leathery and chewy, it’s an Shelling Pea.  Pop the peas out of the shells, discard the shells, and eat the peas.

Radishes grow quickly and with their peppery flavor and crunchy texture make a nice addition to a salad.  We are between plantings of carrots right now and we hope these fill the gap.

A note about spring produce:  It’s lighter, and more expensive per pound than winter or summer produce.  Why?   A pound of carrots or cabbage make take just a minute or two to harvest, but the same amount of peas, asparagus or strawberries takes ten times as long.  This translates into higher labor costs, and labor is the single largest cost of fresh produce.

With so many high-value, low-weight items in your boxes, they will feel lighter and seem like less food for you and your family.  But that doesn’t mean your box still isn’t worth the same amount of money.  Every spring we get a few protests about this.  There’s really not much we can do about it — these are the vegetables (and fruit) that emerge first in spring here and in other temperature regions.  We suggest you supplement the delicious items in your boxes with nutritious and filling foods like beans, grains and dairy products.  We will continue to add potatoes, citrus, onions/garlic and other heavier and less costly items to the boxes in an effort to balance things out for the next six weeks or so.

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