Monsanto

Hundreds Protest Against GMOs

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EUGENE, Ore. — People all around the country are protesting agriculture giant Monsanto Saturday, including hundreds of people here in Eugene.  Cheryl Levie and Charlotte Wilson traveled all the way from Jackson County to join the protest against genetically modified crops or GMOs. “I’ve been a registered nurse for over 30 years and I’ve seen a lot of changes in gastrointestinal issues and disorders. Celiac Disease has increased a fourfold, all kinds of suspected health issues,” said Levie.

They said the recent ban on GMOs in their southern Oregon county should pave the way for the rest of the state to follow. “Research has not been done, anyone that steps forward to do it they’re totally discredited by the community of corporate chemical companies,” said Levie.

The hundreds of people protesting said these GMOs and chemical corporations are responsible for safety and health problems to humans and bees. “It’s a relatively new phenomenon called colony collapse disorder which happens when you go to your hive, it’s booming there’s 80,000 100,000 bees they’re doing great and you come back two weeks later and all the bees are gone,” said Brett Dimond, beekeeper.

Aside from protesting these chemicals, the group is also working to get labels on all GMO products on grocery store shelves. “4.6 billion people woke up this morning with the right to know if there’s GMOs in their food or not and we think everyone in America and certainly everyone in Oregon has the same rights,” said Dimond.

In hopes Oregonians can eliminate GMOs from the food they eat. “There’s a lot of support here and we’re encouraging other people to take the same steps that we have,” said Levie.

Groups call for buffer zones in pesticide use

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Aerial spraying of pesticides, or “crop dusting,” is a practice dating back to 1906.

Several public advocacy groups held a rally today against pesticides at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza during the Saturday Market. Pitchfork Rebellion, an anti-pesticide group from the Triangle Lake area organized “Occupy This! Rally for Pesticide Justice and Jobs!” The event called for banning aerial spraying of pesticides near homes and schools, creating a buffer zone to protect people’s health.

The rally began with a performance by local reggae/jam band Sol Seed, followed by a spoken word protest performance calling for a “pure organic Oregon.”

Then “Day,” a resident of the Triangle Lake area, took to the stage. Day is one of several residents of Triangle Lake who has been documented to have the pesticides 2,4-D and atrazine in his urine. 2,4-D, or 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, is a major ingredient in Agent Orange, one of the chemicals used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program during the Vietnam War. A professional analysis of four public streams near Day’s and other residents’ homes found these pesticides in all of the streams.

Several environmental groups held a rally today against pesticides at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza during the Saturday Market.

Day said,

“We’re just a bunch of hillbillies from Triangle Lake tired of getting hit by pesticides everyday.”

Studies by numerous organizations, from the EPA to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to public universities, have documented the effects of human consumption of pesticides. Pesticides can cause damage to the human nervous system, reproductive system and other organs, developmental and behavioral abnormalities, disruption of hormone function as well as immune dysfunction.

Day introduced Roy Key, a professional forester of over 40 years. Key said he was there to talk about the dangers of pesticide poisoning in Lane County.

“I’ve been in the forest business for 40 years. I’ve managed forests without herbicides or pesticides. You don’t need those substances to manage the forest.”

Key compared pesticide use to his experience in the Vietnam War.

“It’s just like Agent Orange all over again. But here in Lane County.”

Key called on attendees to tell Oregon governor John Kitzhaber to stop the use of pesticides in the state near homes and schools.

Day, a resident of Triangle Lake, has been documented to have the pesticides 2,4-D and atrazine in his urine. A professional analysis of four public streams near Day’s and other residents’ homes found these and other pesticides in all of the streams.

Oregon already has a buffer zone to protect waterways and salmon species. Streamside protection rules for non-federal forest land in Oregon were adopted in 1994. All private, state and local government forest landowners or operators conducting pesticide operations near streams, lakes or wetlands must comply with these rules. In November 2011, a federal judge upheld buffer zones for pesticide use near streams and rivers. Dow Chemical Company, a leader in specialty chemicals based in Michigan, filed a lawsuit seeking to undo the Oregon rules, saying that they were too restrictive. The restrictions ban the ground spraying of three agricultural insecticides within 500 feet of waterways with salmon. They also ban aerial spraying within 1000 feet of said waterways.

While Oregon has a buffer zone for pesticide use near water, it has not adopted a buffer zone near human activity. The Oregon Department of Forestry says,

“Currently, there are no regulations in Oregon requiring a buffer zone for aerial application of herbicides near specific structures or facilities, including schools.”

There are, nonetheless, safety requirements in how pesticides are used, both in residential and forested situations:

“While pesticide use in a residential setting must abide by pesticide label safety requirements, forestry applications must follow those requirements plus additional regulations spelled out in the Oregon Forest Practices Act.”

Pesticide companies, such as Dow Chemical, argue that their products abide by these safety requirements. Concerning 2,4-D, the substance found in Triangle Lake residents, Dow Chemical has said the following:

“2,4-D is available for use in U.S. crop production today because EPA has determined, after evaluating all human health and safety considerations – including the concerns expressed by activists – that current uses (including currently authorized uses on corn) pose ‘a reasonable certainty of no harm.’ This EPA conclusion was reached only after the Agency had considered all relevant data…This regulatory conclusion is supported by mainstream health and safety experts who have thoroughly evaluated the product.”

The application of pesticides has had a long and controversial history. Dr. Patricia Muir, Professor at Oregon State University’s Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, says that, following World War 2,

Ingrid Edstrom, nurse practitioner at Eugene’s Infrared Breast Thermography LLC, spoke of the link between pesticides and breast cancer. “Oregon has the second highest breast cancer rate per capita in the nation,” she added.

“Chemical pesticides have become the most important consciously-applied form of pest management.”

The Oregon Department of Forestry explains this popularity according to pesticides’ cost-effectiveness:

“Many landowners see herbicides as the most cost-effective means of achieving their reforestation goals following logging or fire, or for converting neglected brush land to forests.”

The first important pesticide was DDT (otherwise known as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane). Muir says,

“DDT was discovered in 1939 by a Swiss chemist Paul Muller. In its early days, it was hailed as a miracle…It was inexpensive and easy to apply. It was so effective at killing pests and thus boosting crop yields and was so inexpensive to make that its use quickly spread over the globe. In 1948, Muller was awarded the Nobel Prize for its discovery.”

As years went by, however, DDT was labeled both directly and indirectly toxic to many organisms. Most disturbingly, as Muir explains, DDT

“showed up in human breast milk at remarkably high concentrations — so high that the milk couldn’t legally be sold through interstate commerce if it were cow’s milk! [DDT] is the most widespread contaminant in human milk around the world.”

While DDT was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1972, other pesticides are commonly used in Oregon. The last year in which Oregon has data compiled for pesticide use is 2008. That year it was reported that 280,001 pounds of pesticides (chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion) were used in the state.

A rally attendee protests 2,4-D, one of the pesticides found in streams near Triangle Lake.

The groups that rallied today are hoping to change how those hundreds of thousands of pounds of pesticides are administered. They asked all attendees to fill out postcards to Governor Kitzhaber to ask for expanding pesticide buffer zones to include not just fish, but people.

Christina Hubbard, the Project Director of Forest Web, also spoke at the rally. Forest Web is a grassroots conservation organization based in Cottage Grove. Hubbard said,

“Forest Web stands in solidarity with these groups. I’ve personally been working with Day since 2007. A lot of these pople have had major clinical studies done on their urine and it is documented that they have pesticide poisoning.”

Hubbard says this rally’s message is not particularly radical.

“Really what this is about is creating a reasonable buffer zone for aerial spraying. This is common sense, to protect homes and schools.”

For more information about Oregon’s use of pesticides in agriculture, go to the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s website at http://oregon.gov/ODA/PEST/. For more information about Oregon’s use of them in forestry, go to the Oregon Department of Forestry’s website at http://www.oregon.gov/ODF/privateforests/pesticides.shtml. Websites for the groups involved in the rally are: Pitchfork Rebellion, http://pitchforkrebellion.com/; STOP, http://stop-oregon.org/; Forest Web, http://www.forestweb-cg.org/.

Sowing the Seeds of Change: Meet Dr. Alan “Mushroom” Kapuler

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Sowing the Seeds of Change: Meet Dr. Alan “Mushroom” Kapuler

Nate Gartrell, EDN

Alan Kapuler could have done just about anything with his life. In 1962, when he was only 19 years old, he was the number one graduate from Yale University. He then went on to receive a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Rockefeller University in New York.

Dr. Alan "Mushroom" Kapuler, and his wife, Lina Kapuler, in a section of their outdoor garden.

After graduating from Rockefeller, Kapuler was all set to begin a career in genetic engineering, which he did — for a spell. But then he had an epiphany of sorts, packed his bags, and came to Oregon to become an organic farmer and public domain plant breeder.

“Oregon is a progressive state. It has more intelligent leaders than (most states) generally have,” Kapuler said. “It’s beautiful ecologically and the climate is incredible for growing seeds.”

The source of Kapuler’s epiphany which caused this drastic lifestyle change?

“Bob Dylan. Dylan said, ‘How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?'” Kapuler said. “And that’s what did it. I was involved in primary genetic engineering, and I dropped that and joined the peace movement.”

Today, more than 40 years after that epiphany, Kapuler, who’s now known to his friends simply as “Mushroom,” is still tending to his organic garden. In fact, he has taken a small farm space in Corvallis, added a greenhouse, and turned it into a veritable palace of plants. Kapuler estimated that his greenhouse and the adjacent outdoor garden, contain up to 1,000 different species from all over the world.

“We’re breeding tomatoes for specific amino acid nutritional characteristics, to improve people’s health…” Kapuler said of his research. “…whether you need methionine, or alanine, or serine, or threonine, or tyrosine, or tryptophan or any of the amino acids that make proteins.”

Kapuler said that his garden provides him with about half of his food each day. But his main focus as a farmer is to release the information he gathers about plant genetics, as well as the seeds his plants produce, to the public — without patenting anything first.

“I was one of the co-founders of Seeds of Change and several of the (public domain) seed companies,” Kapuler said. “So we could actually provide a real framework of diversity of species.”

A Globe Artichoke in the Kapulers' garden. A close look reveals two bumblebees busy pollinating it.

In so doing, Kapuler said he hopes to serve as a counter-balance to large corporations, which create certain seeds through genetic engineering and obtain copyrights, thereby preventing growers from using the seeds without paying for them first. Some of these companies, most notably Monsanto, have been known to sue people over their unlawful use of copyrighted seeds.

Kapuler releases the information gathered from his work through Peace Seeds, an organization that he started. Peace Seeds also distributes seeds for a variety of species from Kapuler’s garden.

We have about 15,000 different kinds of seeds in our utility room, and we’re making new varieties of plants for the public,” Kapuler said of Peace Seeds. “We would like to see healthy food grown without chemicals and poisons, and a minimal use of machines.”

Kapuler’s work has attracted interest from other organic farmers and plant breeders, including some in Eugene. One such farmer, Nick Routledge, is a member of a movement called the Seed Ambassadors Project, which trades species with people in other countries.

A glimpse inside the Kapulers' greenhouse.

Routledge said two members of the Seed Ambassadors Project recently traveled to Denmark, and exchanged some fast-growing cantaloupe seeds for a number of grain specimens. Since both climates are similar, Routledge said the trade opened doors for farmers both here and in Europe.

“In Denmark, they haven’t been able to grow cantaloupes,” Routledge said. “Now they can.”

The Seed Ambassadors Project is tied closely to public domain plant breeding because the patenting of seeds by companies has caused the dynamic between farmers to become more tense, Routledge said. Whereas international companies can transport plants, seeds, and bio-genetic material relatively easy, the two members of Seed Ambassadors who traveled to Denmark had to jump through a series of legal hoops to be able to bring materials into and out of Europe.

“There used to be, not too long ago, a sense of collaboration among plant breeders worldwide,” Routledge said about the effect seed patenting has had globally. “And essentially what we’ve seen recently is a complete lockdown. People are now far more reluctant to collaborate with one another because the commercial and legal pressures are such that there are a number of disadvantages to doing that.”

Kapuler said individuals can contribute to this movement by growing a garden organically. “(It’s) not easy–people put it down; that’s because it’s hard. But it’s interesting. Life goes on in the garden.