In the process of writing primarily about food and food safety, I’ve been called a ranter and anti-science, even by those close to me. These barbs don’t pierce nearly as much as a common rejoinder to my insistence that increasing production of GMOs is damaging our planet and our health beyond repair – and that is that no one cares. In a recent article in our local, Republican rag of a newspaper, one man was quoted as saying that 80% of the population don’t know what GMOs are. I have no way of corroborating this figure, but I suspect it’s close to being on the mark. It’s not so much that I’m Cassandra and no one believes me; it’s just that they don’t want to hear it or don’t care. I believe, however, in the power of education and the strength of people to enforce change when they choose to do so.
I live in the Willamette Valley, a verdant producer of grass seed, hazelnuts, grapes and berries. It borders the Willamette and Columbia rivers, as well as containing a vast array of tributary streams. It has recently come to my attention that the Willamette Valley is also home to all the sugar beet seed production in the United States. Beta Seed and West Coast Beet Seed supply a multitude of states with sugar beet seeds. The harvested beets are then processed by seven processing companies who supply one half of U.S. sugar to food and candy manufacturers. Three years ago, these seven companies banded together and decided to convert the entire U.S. sugar beet production to Roundup Ready genetically modified varieties. Indeed, the Oregon Department of Agriculture began allowing, in secret, field trials of genetically altered beet seeds in the Willamette Valley in 2005, and these trials were carried out for two years. The introduction of these GE seeds has led to the inevitable increase in the amounts of herbicides needed to continuously control glyphosate resistant weeds, and the effects upon other environmental partners is beginning to show.
The Columbia Riverkeeper released a study this year measuring toxic pollution in five different fish that reside in the Columbia river. Most of the toxins were identified as PCBs, mercury, arsenic and flame retardants, all chemicals that disrupt endocrine and reproductive systems, but runoff from pesticides is among the leading contaminants in all of U.S. rivers and streams. Even the EPA has reported that “nonpoint source pollution was the leading source of water quality impacts on surveyed rivers and lakes, the second largest source of impairments to wet lands, and a major contributor to contamination of surveyed estuaries and ground water.” “Excessive or poorly timed applications of pesticides” was among the list of agricultural activities that harm our water systems.
As it’s been shown that GE crops demand an ever increasing amount of pesticides to combat weed and insect resistance, it stands to reason that our rivers are in greater danger in Oregon because of GMO production. The chemical fertilizers that are washed into the waterways damage the water and the life therein. The Columbia Riverkeeper study, as well as another study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey found that chemicals harmful to people who eat large quantities of fish have been found in the Columbia at levels exceeding safe consumption.
The fact that PCBs, the use of which was banned in 1979 by the U.S. Congress, still reside in fish today should serve as a red flag for increased use of pesticides (a composite term that includes all chemicals used to kill or control pests, including herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and rodenticides). DDT is still routinely measured as well, and this relates to the ability of a river basin to cleanse itself. It’s a matter of how much time is required for fine-grained sediment to be transported through the basin. If we are still dealing with the consequences of known carcinogenic substances banned decades ago in our rivers, we could be damaging them beyond repair as we continue to dump more and more toxic compounds into the system. Where GMOs are discussed and debated over, there is very little mention of collateral damage around the increased use of pesticides. Aside from the heated debate on whether GMOs are safe to eat, the damage to our environment because of glyphosate and other toxins is rarely included in arguments.
By the way, it was Monsanto, in 1929, that first commercialized the use of PCBs.
Recipe of the Week
Craving more soups and stews as the weather gets colder, I decided on this very simple soup that turned out to be quite satisfying.
Black Bean Soup with Chorizo
1 cup black beans, soaked over night
8 cups homemade chicken stock
1 pound hormone and antibiotic free bulk chorizo, locally sourced if possible
salt and pepper to taste.
Drain the beans and combine with stock in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil and cook until the beans are thoroughly cooked. You may have to add a little more boiling water to the pot before the beans are done. As they cook, crumple the sausage in a frying pan and cook until just done. If there is excess fat, drain it off before adding to the beans. Add these to the soup pot and continue cooking until the flavors blend. The entire process should take about two and a half hours. Taste for salt and pepper.
A nice garnish for this soup is a combination of a little sweet onion, chopped cilantro and lime. A dollop of yogurt on top works well, too.