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Comments from our readers.

 

CREATING MONSTERS
I read with interest “Food Culture,” about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) [March-April] and was shocked that you would give an implied imprimatur to a process that has questionable results and an even more questionable health and safety record. Your support would be surprising even if the only detrimental effect of the use of Roundup was the destruction and contamination of wildlife habitat, as it would seem to run directly counter to Audubon’s mission. But there are myriad other reasons to find your approbation surprising.

As it relates to human health, available studies show that GMOs are more likely to trigger novel allergies, are less nutritious, sprayed with more herbicides, and contain elevated levels of hormones that correlate with common cancers. And there’s no doubt that the most common GMO foods are linked to epidemic levels of obesity and diet-related diseases. These include artery-clogging meat and milk products from animals fed GMO grains, trans fats from GMO vegetable oils, and high-fructose (GMO) corn syrup.

Sadly, the only positive thing I can say about your article is that it provided information about one more form of GMO frankenfood (HoneySweet plums) that I will be sure to avoid in the future. Please reconsider your support for this dangerous technology.

Debra Dean
Naperville, IL

Alisa Opar responds: My aim was to examine the scientific evidence of genetically engineered (GE) crops’ effects on wildlife and habitat to date, and the possible risks GMOs nearing the market might pose in the future. It is by no means an exhaustive analysis of the 70-plus GE products already available but rather a close look at the known, suspected, and potential effects of a handful of them. The story reflects what I found through reporting and extensive literature review, and concludes that to protect ecosystems, broader, science-based discussions weighing the risks and benefits of GE are essential.

 

There are too many risks associated with genetically engineered crops. And part of the problem is “they don’t know” what the impacts will be. That’s what amazes me. They continually allow environmental contamination because they cannot predict the outcomes. Already non-GMO farmers are accused of stealing the corporation’s patented seeds when the farms were actually contaminated by pollen. When there is a lack of choice, for consumers and farms, the tainted crops win every time.

Pat Stevesand
Posted on Facebook

What do you think about GE food? Add your comments here.

 

LONG GRAIN, LONG VIEW
On behalf of my 2,500 rice farmers and the over 40 rice marketers in California, I want to extend a very sincere thank you for Audubon’s support of our family farmers (“Grains of Change,” March-April). Recently, in Washington, D.C., it was my great pleasure to stand in front of a huge group of members, staff, agency heads, and other influencers and point to the collaborative relationship between Audubon and rice. As I noted, it is a relationship that has spanned decades, and one that has benefited our farmers and Audubon—but most important, birds! This fact was highlighted as I held up a copy of the March Audubon and talked about the article on long-billed curlews and their use of rice fields in Northern California.

Too often we move past these important events and are off to the next challenge. I wanted to make sure you knew how much our relationship with Audubon means to our farmers and me.

Tim Johnson
President & CEO
California Rice Commission
Sacramento, CA

 

WHAT’S IN A LABEL?
In “Peeling Back the Label” [Audubon Living, March-April], Gretel Schueller misses the target in explaining NutriClean Certification. The NutriClean program was specifically established to address the issue of pesticide residues in food. Regardless of the method by which foods are grown (conventional, integrated pest management, or organic), pesticide residues can end up in the food, either from purposeful application or accidental exposure. Under the NutriClean program, products are certified pesticide-residue-free down to the detection limits of the state-of-the-art testing technology. That is the most rigorous, scientifically provable claim that can possibly be made. (No one can certify below detection limits.) Moreover, these detection levels are generally much lower than the levels of residue allowed by the EPA, frequently by an order of magnitude (10 times) or more.

Over the 25 years since the program was launched, pesticide applications have been reduced or eliminated on hundreds of thousands of acres of land by farmers seeking to achieve this level of accomplishment. Likewise, consumers have clearly benefited from the reduced risk of pesticide exposure represented by certified products.

Linda Brown
Executive Vice President
Scientific Certification Systems
Emeryville, CA

 

Gretel Schueller’s characterizations about the Marine Stewardship Council are wholly inaccurate, to say the least. For instance, writing “The MSC has also pronounced many destructive bottom-trawl fisheries sustainable” is not accurate; it comes without attribution (if someone actually said that) or any attempt at balance, which is a disservice to readers and journalistic fairness. It amounts to a one-sided, inaccurate opinion piece presented as a news story.

Mike DeCesare
Communications Director, Americas Region,
Marine Stewardship Council
Seattle, WA

Gretel Schueller responds: Based on my research and Scientific Certification Systems' own website, I believe that touting a "residue-free" claim is misleading for a consumer. It gives the false implication that no pesticides were used, which is not the case. While some of your levels of detection-0.01 ppm for many pesticides-are certainly low, it is not the same as residue-free. Further, many of your residue limits are indeed the same as those set by the EPA. The NutriCflean label program in many instances does not offer increased environmental value over conventional production.

There's no doubt that historically the MSC certification program has helped generate benefits for the marine environment. In recent years, however, respected scientists, as well as Greenpeace and some national branches of the World Wildlife Fund, have objected to various MSC certifications. Greener Choices, an independent organization that analyzes eco-labels and is published by the nonprofit Consumers Union, has called MSC's label only "somewhat meaningful," citing a conflict of interest because the program still receives financial contributions from corporations that sell MSC-labeled seafood. It also states that MSC's methodology and assessment of criteria can lead to an "inconsistent application of standards."

One complaint has been certification of fisheries that use destructive trawling. The largest MSC-certified fishery-at more than 1 million tons-is the U.S. trawl fishery for pollock in the eastern Bering Sea. The so-called mid-water trawl gear used is misleading since the trawls are estimated to be fished on the bottom approximately 44 percent of the time, according to a Seafood Watch Report by the Monterey Bay Aquarium (which deems the Bering Sea pollock stocks to be a "moderate conservation concern"). Trawling severely harms the seafloor habitat. Pollock numbers in the eastern Bering Sea, the largest and most lucrative fishery in North America, are at their lowest level since 1980, and Greenpeace has put the fishery on its red list of unsustainable harvests. MSC certified this fishery in 2005 and recommended it for recertification in 2010 despite the fact that pollock suffered a 64 percent decline in spawning biomass between 2004 and 2009.

Another trawl fishery certified by MSC is the New Zealand hoki fishery. Signs of overfishing-mainly drops in hoki spawns-came soon after 2001, when it was first certified. Despite criticism from the WWF and the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand-which claimed the fishery is responsible for the "annual killing of hundreds of protected seals, albatross, and petrels"-fishing quotas were reduced by New Zealand and MSC recertified the fishery in 2007.

In November 2010, MSC certified the Ross Sea Antarctic toothfish longline fishery. This fishery is considered "exploratory" under the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources due to the lack of scientific data and a reliable stock assessment. According to marine biologist Sidney Holt, a former director of the UN's Fisheries Resources and Operations Division and a former director of UNESCO's Marine Sciences Division, toothfish populations and their biology remain largely unknown. This makes it "completely inappropriate" for the MSC to even consider certifying the fishery. Similarly, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition criticized MSC's decision. ASOC, a coalition of more than 30 non-governmental organizations interested in Antarctic environmental protection, is urging chefs, retailers, and consumers to avoid Ross Sea toothfish.

I don't think that there's anything in Ted's piece that contradicts mine; he mentions a critical Nature article that I do. He just had more space to work with and let the MSC folks get their say.