Guest Post by Julia Whitmore

I am so excited to have Julia Whitmore here today. Many of you may remember Julia from last October when we took a blogging class together with Kristen Lamb.
 

Julia started out as a writer and says she somehow just ended up in law school.
 

Somehow? How does one just end up in Law school Julia? 🙂
 

Then afterwards, she married and devoted her time towards motherhood.
 

Sounds familiar, right?
 

Yet, it wasn’t until the youngest child headed off to college that Julia decided it was time for her to return to writing fiction. And then somehow she found herself published in the Oregon Quarterly magazine.
 

Somehow? Whatever you say girl.
 

Julia lives with her husband in beautiful Eugene, Oregon, where other than writing, she grows apples, pears, blueberries and lots of flowers. It is Julia’s passion for nature and the environment that inspired her to write this post today.
 

Now before you read on, I must tell you that I had planned on writing about a similar subject, that was until I read this post on Julia’s blog the other day. And wow, was I ever impressed. So impressed that I wanted to share it here with you.
 

Why? Because it is a very important subject that involves the livelihood of those involved and the future of our wellbeing.
 

August McLaughlin has touched on this subject, but this post comes from a different side of the issue: The farmer and the worldwide community that consumes their food.
 

So without further ado, here’s Julia!
 
 

Thank you Karen.
 
 

Gas vs. Grass: Canola War in the Willamette Valley
 
 

It’s a STANDOFF.
 

In one corner, canola growers.
 

How lovely and benign-looking. A canola field.
 

In the other corner, seed producers, opponents of genetically modified crops and fresh vegetable farmers.
 

In Oregon it’s a long-standing feud.
 


“Reservoir Dogs” Mexican Standoff
 

For the last decade or so, Oregon’s Department of Agriculture weighed in by prohibiting canola from being grown without special permission on 3.7 million acres in the Willamette Valley.
 


 
Why? Canola likes it here a little too much. It’s a good rotation crop that doesn’t need to be watered, which means it grows like, well, a weed. It takes off quickly, and happily cross pollinates with other members of the brassica family, including grasses, radish, turnip, mustard, rutabaga, cabbage. This is fine for farmers who need to give fields a rest with an alternate crop, or are looking for a quick buck with an off-season crop. It’s not so good for the $32 million a year specialty seed business, which depends on 100% pure and untainted seeds.
 

Unlike most agricultural states which focus on a crop or two en masse, say corn or soy, Oregon farms produce over 200 crops, many grown for seed, which is internationally famous for high quality and purity. If you’re a fan of saving seed species diversity, this valley is heaven.
 

Canola is a problem for organic farmers. About 90% of the canola grown in the U.S. is genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides. Canola’s prolific cross-pollination means that unintended crops end up with GM genes, and organic farmers lose their licenses if their produce is crossed with a GM crop. The USDA doesn’t make a distinction between GM and non-GM canola, so Oregon’s Department of Agriculture doesn’t either, and offers no relief.
 

GM canola’s tendency to spread beyond its fields also causes problems if farmers re-plant tainted seeds, even if they do it unknowingly. See Monsanto v. Schmeiser. Why? Because once a company creates a genetically modified plant, all its offspring are the private property of said company, forever and ever. It sounds a little like me taking credit for my son’s senior college project, but whatever. Farmers have been sued. Courts have ruled in company-creators’ favor.
 

From the incomparable Willamette Valley Cartoonist J Compere
 

If all that isn’t enough, canola attracts cabbage maggots, is susceptible to stem cankers and black mold rot and other insidious plant illnesses, which then spread to other crops.
 

This issue, like all issues, is complicated. There are different kinds of canola, which is actually a variety of rapeseed, used throughout history for lamp oil, but until recent incarnations, too bitter for food. Recently developed strains are now usable for animal and human food, produced from the seeds. The name in fact comes from the abbreviation Can. O. L-A (Canadian Oil Low-Acid).
 

Anyway, on with the story. Canola’s well-documented problems were taken note of by Oregon’s Department of Agriculture, and a relatively small slice of the state was set aside as canola-free. All is well, right?
 

Enter biofuels. Rapeseed oil, it turns out, works pretty well as a biofuel, and so the pressure to open up more acreage to GM canola heated up. Permits for test plots in Rickreall and Baker were issued, with 3-mile protection zones set up around them, and all went well, according to the canola growers. Then the Department of Agriculture tried to pull a fast one.
 

On Friday, Aug. 3, just before 5 p.m. the department sent out a news release announcing that they were going to “refine” (i.e. shrink) the no-canola zone. Temporarily. (Making it temporary allowed the department to sidestep public notice or comments.) Planting to begin immediately.
 

Whoa.
 

Oregon, however, is not a state of slackers. Within days, seed growers, farmers and environmentalists filed suit against the temporary ruling. Over 10,000 people signed a petition asking the department to hold its horses. 23,000 people world wide signed the petition, which gives you an idea of how much people care about this, everywhere.
 

Given the immediacy of the question, the Oregon Court of Appeals granted a stay to the temporary rule (i.e., in favor of the no-canola plaintiffs),
 

which will be in effect until …

… the newly drafted permanent rule, which makes the temporary “refinement” of the no-canola zone immutable, takes effect. Follow all that? Translation: canola will be allowed into the protected zone unless in the coming month public pressure convinces the Department of Agriculture otherwise.
 

As with so many of the things we care about these days, the jury is out. Will canola be grown in Oregon’s protected agricultural zone? Does the need for fuel outweigh the need for untainted seeds and crops? Can canola be grown safely in areas where cross-breeding crops are grown? To be continued …
 
 

Whoa is right Julia! Thank you so much for bring this to our attention.
 
 

No, thank you Karen. And thanks to everyone who came by to read my post today. As you can see, I feel very passionate about this subject, but I feel it’s important for all of us to be aware of this. It doesn’t just affect us locally, but this is somethng that affects the whole world.
 
 

I’ll say it does. Thanks again Julia. And please keep us informed as this situation plays out.
 

To read more great posts by Julia Whitmore, please click here.
 
 

So what do you think? Granted, it was a pretty heavy subject today. But how does this affect you? Were you aware of this problem? Are you concerned about how GM foods may affect you and the health of your family? Do you think that GM foods should be labeled? What steps do you and your family take to eat healthy?
 
 

Thank you everyone for dropping by and for all your wonderful comments!
Karen

 
 

35 thoughts on “Guest Post by Julia Whitmore

  1. Kristy K. James

    Chiming in here a little late, but I watched a documentary several months ago (maybe The Future of Food?) about this, and I wondered then why farmer’s who DON’T use GMO seeds, and who find it in their fields, don’t sue Monsanto for contaminating their lands with their garbage seeds.

    Because I have to say that it strikes me as downright fishy that farmers who don’t use it have to allow Monsanto employees on THEIR property. Fields are pretty large, and finding where a few patented seeds have fallen…yeah, I’m thinking set up.

    Why are we citizens of whatever countries we’re living in allowing this to happen? Countries are halting American imports of corn (Russia says it the pesticides cause cancer in rats).

    So we’re stuck eating this crap…because government and big business make all the rules. Scary stuff. 🙁
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    1. Julia

      Hi Kristy,
      You are right. The farmers should be suing Monsanto — and they are, but not for tainted seed, as far as I know. Are you an attorney? Want to take it on?

      5 million European farmers are suing Monsanto for $6.2 billion Euros for the royalties Monsanto collects for replanted seeds. Farmers have always had the right to multiply seeds gathered from seeds purchased. The suit will try to prove that Monsanto’s royalties amount to a private tax on production. A similar suit has been filed in Brazil, where a lower court awarded the farmers $2 billion, and the appeal is proceeding. It’s frustrating how long it takes for court cases to wend their way through the system even when suits are brought.

      I wonder too why there seems to be so much apathy about this issue in the US.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
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  3. Alarna Rose Gray

    Frightening stuff, truly frightening. As far as I understand, the laws in Oz say that GM labels should appear on fresh food, but not necessarily on certain processed items with GM ingredients. But I’m not sure. Now I will have to go and find out. Thanks for the highly informative article…

    Reply
    1. Karen Post author

      Hi Alarna! How goes it in the land of OZ? Yes, GM foods are truly frightening. Here in California, they are trying to past a law that requires all GM produced foods to be label as such. We are hoping that it passes. We just want to eat safe, healthy food. Is that too much to ask? So glad you found Julia’s article helpful! Thanks so much for dropping by and take care! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Louise Behiel

    Interesting post Ladies. I had no idea about canola being so aggressive. It’s a regular site in Alberta fields. thanks for the heads up. GMO foods scare the daylights out of me.

    Reply
    1. Julia

      There, see? Plenty of places to grow canola besides here! In honor of your fine country Louise, I’ll call it by it’s proper name Canadian Oil Low Acid. Hey, how about if we keep Canola up in Alberta, but but get some lessons on another fine Canadian invention, health care for everyone? Thanks for commenting.
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    2. Karen Post author

      Hi Louise! I too had no idea conola was so aggressive. It sure looks beautiful though. Who knew it was such a menace? And GMO foods scare me also. It will be interesting to see who wins in this debate. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts Louise. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Rhonda Hopkins

    I definitely think labels are important. I want to know what I’m eating or have a choice in what I buy. GM foods scare me. I read a couple of articles about the GM corn that August mentioned. I wish I were in the position to grow my own foods, but I’m not. So I look for those that are organic grown. Thanks to both of you for posting about this very important topic.
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    1. Julia

      Hi Rhonda. Hope you live in California, where you have a chance to vote on labeling. In Oregon where I live, Monsanto spent millions to defeat a labeling requirement, and it was defeated. There are initiative petitions floating around in our state, but none with much momentum, as far as I can tell.
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    2. Karen Post author

      Hi Rhonda! You are so right. Labels would make a huge difference. When I was a little girl, there were no labels. Very little was said about the ingredients in our food. It took years to make the food companies include the ingredients on their labels. It was a huge thing. Yet most people still don’t read them. Sad really. And the chemical companies know this. That’s why they think they can get away with bullying these seed farmers, along with the organic farmer. It’s like playing monopoly. They got the most money, so they can play the longest and win. I’m so glad you appreciated the Julia’s post Rhonda and thank you so much for your input. It was very much appreciated. Take care! 🙂

      Reply
  6. Marcy Kennedy

    I’m a farmer’s daughter and had no idea about this. (But we’re in a area that doesn’t have this problem…yet.)

    This is a very complex issue, but I would say that in this case, the need for fuel should NOT be the primary one. The patent issue is actually a big one, since it could destroy a farmer’s life at no fault of his own if his crops are contaminated by someone else’s genetically modified canola.
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    1. Julia

      Hi Marcy,
      I went to the hearing at the State Capital today, and 99% of the people there agree with you. It was something. Not long ago, the grass seed industry and the environmentalists locked horns over other issues, but today, they sat side by side and applauded each other on this one. Can’t wait to see the ODA’s response. Or, if it’s bad news, maybe I can.
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    2. Karen Post author

      Hi Marcy! Well as a farmer’s daughter, you know how important this issue is. And it may not affect your area yet, as you say, but it will. These chemical companies are a huge strong-arm and like to throw their money and weight around. But what’s so sad is, once these untainted seeds are gone, we’ll be force to eat this GM food, for there will be no alternative. And the seed farmer will have no crop to sell to the world wide market. So then, what happens to him? Scary stuff, I tell ya. What’s even scarier is that most people are not aware of this. All of this is taking place right underneath our own nose. Thanks so much for your input Marcy! I appreciate your background knowledge on this subject. 🙂

      Reply
  7. shannon esposito

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention. It is an important subject. What a big bully our government can be! I was just reading an article about GM corn and how they’re finding out it causes cancer in lab rats. It’s so hard to know who to believe in these studies, they all contradict each other. But, I do believe we should be informed, definitely. Labels are a must. Then we can make our own decision, just like we do with other dangerous things…like sugar. 🙂
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    1. Julia

      Hi Shannon. What a formidable force government plus large corporate cash influxes can be! I was all cheerful after attending yesterday’s hearing. 99% of the speakers were opposed to allowing rapeseed into the valley. This morning I learned that Monsanto hosted a golf tournament for the Oregon Farm Bureau THE DAY BEFORE the hearing. The local paper gave plenty of ink to the GM Canola proponents this morning, and wrote that “dozens testified on both sides”. I counted 8 on pro canola side and at least 100 on the other. Sigh.
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    2. Karen Post author

      Hi Shannon! I am so glad that you found this post imformative and helpful. Yes, “Big Brother” can be a bully sometimes. Perhaps you read the article that I read. There is a current study in France that showed that indeed GM foods contribute to cancer in lab rats. And that would be the reason most of Europe won’t buy GM produced grains from the U.S. How did they get to be so smart? Yes, I too think we have a right to know how our food is produced and labels are the ticket. But will the chemical companies allow that to happen? Do they want people to really know what’s in their food. Can you say law suits? 🙂

      Reply
  8. August McLaughlin

    Wonderfully informative and accessible post on such a complex and controversial topic.

    As you probably know, Karen, I’m all for GM food labels. I feel it’s important to know what we’re eating and from where (and how) it derives. Thanks for addressing this important issue! Off to check out Julia’s blog. 🙂
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    1. Karen Post author

      Well thank you August! I will pass this on to Julia. I was all set to post a blog about GM testing that they’re doing in France, but when I read this post I thought, oh wow, I need to share this with y’all. And yes, I couldn’t agree with you more August. I hope we see labels on our food soon. But for now, I’m sticking with organic! Thank you so much for your support on this subject and for Julia’s post today! Let’s keep spreading the word about eating healthy my friend. 🙂

      Reply
    1. Karen Post author

      Hey there Diane! He, he, he. I think the problem is, we writers live like a Tortoise. And every once in a while, it’s good to stick our head out and see what’s happening in the world. But then after you read something like this, we just want to stick our head back into our shell, right? Yes, who knew? And if you start to grow your own food Diane, whose going to protect it from the deer that inhabit your neighborhood? LOL! Thank you for stopping by and watch what you eat my friend! 🙂

      Reply
    2. Julia

      I don’t know WHAT system we’re headed for, but things are changing fast. Touche on the subsidy question. I’m not up on federal figures, but the legislature recently approved a 5 cent per pound subsidy for oil seed crops, which is one of the reasons why interest in rapeseed spiked. I love our local farmer’s market, but hope I don’t have to grow my own food. You should see my attempts at lettuce! It’s all out war with slugs and cutworms, and they usually win. And tomatoes! I get a ton, and then … nothing for nine months? Thanks for the comment
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  9. Ginger Calem

    Whoa! This is very upsetting to me, as I’m sure you’re not surprised. It seems harder and harder (and more expensive) to just eat real, not-messed-with food. It’s irritating that this is happening. I’m sure it’s all about the ‘bottom dollar’ but sometimes we have to set all that aside and do what it right.

    Ggrrr!!

    thanks for sharing Julia’s blog, Karen. And thanks, Julia but shedding a much needed bright light on this situation. Please keep us updated.
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    1. Karen Post author

      Whoa is right Ginger! We can be upset together on this one my friend. Yes, it is harder and harder to eat real food. And that would be why we eat organic. As I mentioned to Jennette, the sad thing about this is, organic farming yields are higher than GM farms. Yep. Yet, we are told the opposite. What’s up with that? Ack, the chemical companies rule the world. Not much we can do except support our organic farmers, right? I’ve got to get you to post a blog here at my digs Ginger. That would be so cool. Let me know what you think, okay? Thanks for your support and input on this hot topic Ginger! 🙂

      Reply
  10. Pat O'Dea Rosen

    Gah! I’m not a farmer, but if I were, I could see myself blundering into growing canola as a rotation crop. Thanks to this post, I get that canola threatens those who grow crops for seed, understand the need for a canola-free zone, and am mystified by the Dept. of Agriculture’s move to shrink the canola-free zone. The canola lobby must be well-oiled. (Couldn’t resist.)

    Julia, thanks for illuminating an issue and a corner of the country I don’t know well.

    Karen, thank you for keeping tabs on all the WANAs, not just those who post to the WANA1011 page. I appreciate the reintroduction to Julia and her blog.
    Pat O’Dea Rosen recently posted..Food for ThoughtMy Profile

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    1. Karen Post author

      HI Pat! I really hit ya with a hot topic this week, eh? Well, you never know what I’m up to, do you? LOL! Yet, seriously, what concerns me is the fact that the crops grown for their seed are threatened. That in turn affects the sale of said seed by these farmers to the world wide marketplace. Because the rest of the world doesn’t want to buy tainted/GM infested seed. Yes, the canola lobby must be well-oiled. Well said Pat! And it was a priviledge to reintroduce Julia. And thank you so much for helping to make her feel welcome Pat! 🙂

      Reply
    2. Julia

      Me too! Oh! a nice crop that doesn’t need watering, helps replenish the soil and is eligible for a state subsidy! And we can do our bit to reduce our dependence on imported oil. Perfect, right? Man. Cars and money rule, right? Thank goodness the seed industry here brings in $32 million a year, or there would be no fight.
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  11. karla Darcy

    I was totally unaware of this issue. It’s troubling on many levels. So many issues have two or more sides so that it’s hard to form an opinion. Good for the world or good for us. Clear discussions like this are really helpful. Thanks for the fascinating post.
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    1. Karen Post author

      Hi Karla! I know I hit y’all this week with a serious issue, but thank you so much for your input. Yes, there are many sides to this issue. I tell you what help our family. And this information came from our kids. They suggested we watch a couple of films on Netflix that deal with this very subject. Oh boy Karla, was it ever an eye opener. Wow! As I told Jennette, we just want to eat healthy food, right? I’m glad you enjoyed the post Karla. Thanks! 🙂

      Reply
    2. Julia

      This is a troubling issue, but the way it is unfolding is encouraging. Word got out very quickly, and the system responded to people’s concerns. This morning I attended the public hearing — very civilized and informative. Seed growers sat next to fresh vegetable farmers, next to college idealists and backyard hobby gardeners. Only three people testified in favor of allowing rapeseed into the valley. The rest, for 5 long hours, testified against. We’ll see what the DOA does next…
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  12. Jennette Marie Powell

    Although I’ve heard about the issue between growing corn for food vs. for fuel, I was unaware of this issue. GM food is not a simple black-and-white issue – it may be a necessity when we look toward feeding a population of over 7 billion people, yet this issue illustrates how it introduces complications that are more far-reaching than anyone could have predicted. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!
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    1. Karen Post author

      Hi Jennette! You are an early bird my friend. Thank you so much for weighing in on this. And I agree with you. GM food is not a simple issue. And yes, when we consider there are over 7 billion mouths to feed around the world, it makes this a really important subject. Especially after having been told for so many years now that without GM foods, we would not be able to feed the world. But recent studies have proven that organic farming yields are higher than GM farms. Say what? Yep, it’s true. I think we just want safe food to eat, don’t you Jennette? 🙂

      Reply
    2. Julia

      You’re right Jennette, how we produce food is as far from black and white as it can get. The trouble with genetically modified foods is there is no way to test the effect it has on people, at least in the short term. The long term test is already underway in the Midwest. People living there are, in effect, guinea pigs. The toxic chemicals in Roundup are already building up in the soil and water, and round up resistant super weeds are popping up all over the place. And you’re also right, not all genetic modifications are created equal. There are competing reports out there about what kind of farming will carry our future populations. Organic and non organic farmers, endocrinologists and genetic tinkerers are all learning — rapidly — from each other, changing everything.
      Julia recently posted..Camping with Strange Bedfellows: Week 21My Profile

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