Huber claims new organism a threat to livestock industry
By SEAN ELLIS
The retired Purdue University professor who sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warning about a new harmful organism linked to Roundup Ready technology will be one of the speakers at the 2012 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention.
Don Huber, a plant pathologist, was invited so growers could question him about his claims, said Travis Jones, executive director of the Idaho Grain Producers Association, a sponsor of the Nov. 12-14 convention in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, for Idaho, Oregon and Washington farmers.
"It's a great way for people to ask questions of him on his positions," Jones said. "I think it will definitely spark some good debate and discussion."
Huber claims that a newly identified microscopic organism linked to Roundup Ready technology is prolific in plants infected with sudden death syndrome in soybeans and Goss' wilt in corn, and that lab tests confirm its presence in a wide variety of livestock that have experienced spontaneous abortions and infertility.
While the organism is found naturally in the soil, Huber said, it's found in much higher concentrations in Roundup Ready corn and soybeans, suggesting a link to the Roundup Ready gene.
Huber, who has authored or co-authored more than 300 scientific journal articles, has been criticized for not releasing evidence that can be peer-reviewed.
"He is definitely going to be getting questions from the audience and I think the biggest question will be, 'What's the evidence?'" said north Idaho grain farmer Robert Blair, a member of the joint U.S. Wheat Associates and National Association of Wheat Growers' biotech committee.
Huber asked the USDA to declare a moratorium on the further deregulation of crops genetically modified to resist glyphosate herbicides -- which is sold under the trade name Roundup by Monsanto -- until the Roundup Ready system is exonerated by further research.
Roundup Ready technology has been used in corn and soybeans for almost 15 years, said Doug Jones, executive director of Growers for Biotechnology in Meridian, Idaho.
"You can't have that many thousands of farmers ... continuing to buy the seed if there's a problem with it," he said. "Farmers aren't dumb; they know what good crops look like on their farms.
"If he can prove it scientifically, yes, I'd say we have to go back and take a second look," Jones said. "But until he can show the proof, I will remain skeptical."
Huber told the Capital Press Oct. 31 that the organism, which is self-replicating, is undergoing DNA sequencing to determine its characteristics and if it is in fact a newly identified organism.
He said supporting evidence would be released soon.
"We're trying to make sure all the data is there so it can be properly peer-reviewed, properly evaluated and its impacts properly understood," he said.
Huber said he welcomes the chance to discuss his research with growers.
"I anticipate a good discussion and an opportunity to review a lot of this research," he said.