Are New Genetically Modified Techniques the Future of Food and Farming?

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I first met Jim Thomas, Co-Director of the ETC Group, at a Sustainable Ag and Food Systems Funders conference.  Jim had been tracking emerging technologies and their intersection with food and agriculture for some time. When I first heard him speak, in his lilting almost playful cadence, about something called “synthetic biology,” my ears perked up.

He was talking about a new form of genetic engineering that can alter genetics on a worldwide scale – one with little or no government oversight.  Continue reading

Why go to Oregon? Because Seed Matters

My friends ask me what exotic place I plan to visit on my next culinary adventure. My wanderlust urged me to attend BioFach in Nuremberg, Germany and relish the schnitzel and bratwurst. Instead, I am off to beautiful downtown Corvallis, Oregon to sample the organic hazelnuts and Pinot Noir while attending the 9th Organic Seed Growers Conference.

Why you may ask this domestic departure? Because all things I savor come from seeds. This year’s theme is Synergy that Sustains, and it’s going to take quite a lot of synergy to sustain and advance organic seed systems worldwide. Continue reading

Will FDA Alter the GMO Argument For Organic?

Why do consumers buy certified organic food? They cite the avoidance of persistent insecticides, herbicides and hormones, and to protect the health of their families and the environment. Another significant guarantee the organic label provides consumers is the lack of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs in organic production. A new initiative by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and USDA aims to change public perception on GMO’s. How could the organic label be affected? Continue reading

Serving up a Vegan Burger or Genetic Roulette?

Not all plant-based meat alternatives are created equal. For years the vegans among us have chomped down on black bean burgers and seitan chicken balls, alternatively feasting on Tofurky breast and stuffing. Animal rights groups laud the artisanal vegan meatloaf and tempeh bacon as righteous culinary trends. Who doesn’t want to see an end to confined animal feeding operations by voting with your vegan fork? As technological tongue twisters like CRISPR-CAS9 and Synthetic Biology are changing the face of medicine and agriculture, they are also landing directly onto your vegan plate. One of the newest plant-based products is sizzling with gene-editing techniques to create an impossible burger with potential hidden consequences. Continue reading

Genetically Engineered Plants and Animals: The Ecology of Unknown Consequences

Imagine the primordial forest, a canopy dense with foliage, the floor strewn in dappled light. From the cool boreal woodlands to the tropical forests, trees have sustained complex ecosystems evolving over the millennia of time. Some trees live for decades and even centuries, laying down shade and forest duff, sustaining mosses, insects, birds and mammals. Their seed and pollen spread with the wind sometimes traveling hundreds of miles. What then could possibly go wrong with a forest of genetically engineered trees, a pasture of GE grass or genetically engineered animals? The answer is we don’t really know… but probably plenty. Continue reading