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Americans should resist spread of biotechnology in food

Published on March 18, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on April 15, 2011 7:19AM

Tony Azevedo

Tony Azevedo


For the Capital Press

If you are interested in eating, you should know what you are putting in your mouth.

The "powers that be" finally won their battle in Washington, D.C., allowing Roundup Ready alfalfa seed to be used. What is Roundup Ready? Roundup Ready is a genetically modified organism that is immune to the Roundup herbicide.

Which means that our cows, which give us our beef, milk, cheese and hundreds of other products, can have a full diet of "Roundup Ready" feed. And, if you believe "you are what you eat" at what point does this affect you, the consumer?

Our USDA secretary, Tom Vilsack, who approved the Roundup Ready alfalfa seed, did it after our new Congress took him to the woodshed. He held it off the market as long as he could. Don't you think you have a right to know if you are eating GMOs?

By now you are probably wondering who I am to be disputing the "powers that be." I am a 59-year-old farmer who has been farming for 38 years. I'm proud to farm in the central California San Joaquin Valley with my son. I produce milk, meat, corn, oats, alfalfa and Sudan. I don't have a Ph.D., but I have two things that I feel are just as important: 38 years of experience in farming and common sense.

Common sense seems to be in short supply these days. Don't get me wrong, I do appreciate the biotechies who are developing new strains of plants that are going to someday solve the world hunger problem. But I do believe that as American consumers we'd like to know if we are eating GMOs.

So how does a California farmer with very little formal education know so much? A few years ago the "powers that be" came out with rBST. This is a synthetic hormone that gets injected into each dairy cow every few days to enhance milk production. The dairy farmers flocked to it like bees to honey. Long story short, it was a huge disaster, and when the consumers caught wind of it they were appalled. Because of this, most dairy products are now labeled "rBST-free."

Most of you probably know that if products are labeled "certified organic" it means GMO-free. However, this isn't about organic versus conventional farming. This is a threat to all farmers, large and small. As a conventional farmer, once you have planted Roundup Ready crops, where are you going to sell them? The truth is that almost all of the European countries have rejected GMOs. In fact, once you plant a Roundup Ready crop you lose the right to harvest the seeds from that crop; they don't belong to you.

In addition, there are processors that are currently working on labeling their food "non-GMO." As the public demands to know if it is GMO, more and more food processors are going to use this non-GMO label. What do you tell those farmers that have already planted Roundup Ready crops and can't sell them to dairymen and beef producers because their processor has a GMO-free label?

Look, I'm not against advanced technology, but it has to be tempered with common sense. Just because you can create a new plant species does not give you the right to feed it to the American people without their knowledge.

What can you do to preserve your right to know if you are eating GMOs? As consumers we can look in our refrigerators and food pantry. Make a list of your favorite foods and then check to see if any of them are labeled "non-GMO." If they are not labeled "non-GMO," make it your mission to e-mail, write or phone these companies and demand the right to know if you are eating GMOs. Your purchasing dollar carries a lot more weight than anything Congress can do.

These opinions are not just my own. I am the president of the Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, which represents all of the organic dairy farms in the West.

Tony T. Azevedo is president of the Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance. Contact him at tonyandcarol@thedoublet.com .


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