Several farmers in New Mexico and throughout the country continue to fight an uphill battle against genetically engineered crops. Robin Seydel, the director of membership at La Montañita Co-op, breaks down the ongoing debate in an open forum discussion this Sunday. ---

When she's not busy spreading the word to local communities about the benefits of shopping at local co-ops like La Montañita, Seydel likes to spend her time educating people about the potential risks of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). Recently, she also found a few spare moments to take SFR shopping.

We start in produce where, amid organic winter squash and individual packets of sprout starters, Seydel catches us up on the recent scuffle over genetically engineered sugar beets.

On February 4, the USDA announced that they would allow plantings of what Monsanto brands as "Roundup Ready Beets." (The beets are genetically modified to resist Monsanto's Roundup brand herbicide, which it sells to farmers along with the seeds).

Shortly after the USDA's decision was announced, a lawsuit was filed by the Sugar Beet Growers Association and several individual farmers to lift some of the restrictions placed on them by the new regulations. This lawsuit was essentially a pro-active response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety against the USDA on September 9, 2010.

In that suit, the USDA was accused of bypassing certain environmental reviews in order to deregulate the planting of Roundup Ready Beets more quickly. Needless to say, the Center for Food Safety's lawsuit only delayed the inevitable.

To the average consumer, the USDA's recent decision means that potentially all sugar produced with sugar beets grown in the United States could contain at least some portion of the genetically modified crops.

"It's exactly what Monsanto and the other corporations want," Seydel says, "Because then they have control."

As we stroll past bags of corn chips in the organic snack aisle, Seydel elaborates on the plan "big corn" has for total domination of crop production.

In short, large agricultural corporations like Monsanto want to genetically modify crops to increase production and reduce loss of product to typical environmental concerns such as pests and bacteria. More production equals more profit.

While this might seem like a good thing on the surface, the peripheral issues related to the use of GMOs create something of a slippery slope.

As the plants become more resistant to pesticides and herbicides, the damaging weeds and pests are naturally selected to be stronger and more resilient as well. The results have been referred to as "super weeds" and "super bugs". As a result, big corn designs stronger herbicides and pesticides, which are even more detrimental to the soil, the water supplies and potentially our health. So on, ad infinitum.

It's not enough to choose not to use genetically engineered crops either. Monsanto and similar companies brand their seeds well before they are approved for use. When the branded crops cross-pollinate with the unmodified crops of nearby farmers who don't plant GMOs, those crops technically become the property of the company that owns the license to the GMO.

This is all old news to anyone who has seen recent films such as Food, Inc., and that's just what Seydel likes to hear.

"The exciting thing is the amazing wave of awareness that is currently making its way through the public. It gives us the perfect opportunity to create community based movements for progressive change," Seydel says.

That sounds great, but by the time we make it to La Montañita's impressive bulk aisle we at SFR are more than a little worried. We're terrified.

Perhaps sensing our fear, Seydel tells SFR, "I don't want to scare people. I want to educate them and get them excited about the possibilities for the future."

As an example, Seydel suggests that people can avoid genetically engineered products altogether by making everything from scratch. This means buying basic, raw ingredients in bulk and doing things yourself. It also means avoiding processed foods at all costs.

"Change is scary to a lot of people. It also takes time, which is something we don't have," Seydel says.

She elaborates on even more possibilities for change, and encourages participants to share their own ideas, during her discussion.

GMO Lecture/Discussion

11 am-noon
Sunday, Feb. 13.


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