California’s Mendocino County became the first county in the United States to ban the growing of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) when 57 percent of its voters cast their ballots on March 2 in favor of the initiative called Measure H.
“This is a literal turning point against genetically engineered foods, and toward organic and sustainable agriculture,” says Ronnie Cummins, executive director of the Organic Consumers Association.
GMOs are crops and animals genetically altered by biotech companies seeking to add desirable traits. GMOs are controversial because many people are concerned that the long-term health and environmental effects of genetic engineering (GE) are unknown, and they are wary of companies adding so many GE ingredients to foods. Organic growers are especially concerned because organic foods must be GE-free, but pollen drift from GE crops is contaminating nearby organic crops. For consumers, it’s a challenge to avoid genetically engineered products because the biotech industry has refused to label what many now call “Frankenfoods.” As a result of these concerns, citizen’s groups across the nation are now pushing for outright bans on growing GE crops.
“Mendocino is the first county in the nation to do this, but it has inspired many others, not only in California but all over the world,” Cummins says. This spring, more than 75 cities in Vermont passed resolutions to keep GMOs out of their communities. Groups in other counties in California, and in Colorado, Hawaii, Missouri and North Dakota are considering no-GMO ballot measures, too.
In Europe, although the European Union recently approved the importation of genetically engineered corn, 22 countries have started ban-GMOs initiatives, and hundreds of cities in Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Slovenia already have approved GMO-free resolutions.
In California, the pro-GMO lobbying organization CropLife spent more than $700,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to block Mendocino County’s Measure H and has vowed to challenge it in courts and the state legislature. Shortly after the passage of the initiative, the Organic Consumers Association launched BioDemocracy Alliance, a major campaign to oppose state legislation against Mendocino County’s ban and to support GE-free zones across the nation. The association also supported the anti-GMO effort in Vermont, where the legislature passed the “Farmer Right to Know Act” mandating the labeling of genetically engineered seeds but dropped another measure that would have banned all GMOs in the state.
Cummins says the California legislature is likely to face a “ferocious fight” if the biotech industry lobbies to repeal Measure H. “This is not a minor issue in California. This is not just about genetic engineering. It’s about democracy,” he says. “Are they going to tell us what we can eat and grow, or are we going to have local control?”
Els Cooperrider, owner of the Ukiah (Calif.) Brewing Company and one of the leaders of the campaign in Mendocino County, says, “The challenge for other communities will be greater because now the biotech industry is onto us. They lost miserably and they learned that they need to pay attention.”
More than 150 million acres worldwide are planted in biotech crops — chiefly corn, cotton, soybeans and canola. Some estimates show 60 percent of conventional food products test positive for GE ingredients. Go to www.organic consumers.org/ge-free.htm to learn more about the BioDemocracy Alliance campaign.
— Umut Newbury
COLD TURKEY. Kurt Vonnegut on Americans’ petroleum dependence: “We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on.” Read the full article at www.inthesetimes.com.
Simple Steps You Can Take to Save Gasoline, and Money
Even owners of the most fuel-efficient cars feel the burn in their wallets as gasoline prices climb to record levels. When it comes to fuel economy, a little common sense can help; here are some tips for stretching your gas:
• Slow down! Speeding wastes gas. Each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph decreases your mileage by 7 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
• Nix jack-rabbit starts. Opt instead for slow acceleration. Rapid acceleration as well as speeding and rapid braking all waste gas and cut mileage by as much as 33 percent.
• Carpool and use public transportation whenever possible.
• Keep your car properly tuned up, and change the air filter regularly to improve mileage by up to 10 percent.
• Get your exercise! Walk or bike to your destination instead of driving.
• Take advantage of your cruise control to maintain steady speed if you can.
• Combine your errands and plan your routes to drive fewer miles. Making one multi-stop trip with a warm engine can use as little as half the gas of several short trips taken from cold starts.
• Use the recommended grade of motor oil to maximize fuel economy.
• Inflate tires to the proper pressures. This will increase gas mileage by 3 percent and extend the life of your tires.
• Taking a road trip? Travel light. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk cuts fuel economy by 2 percent. A loaded roof rack or carrier can cut mileage by as much as 5 percent.
[source: Alliance to Save Energy]
Sprouts & Snippets
Jeffrey Dukes, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, has calculated that each gallon of gas is created from about 100 tons of ancient plant matter, about the same amount that exists in 40 acres of wheat. His study, “Burning Buried Sunshine: Human Consumption of Ancient Solar Energy,” was published in Climatic Change (November 2003). Other dramatic statistics revealed by Duke’s research: The fossil fuels humans have burned since 1751 have required all of the energy captured by ancient plants and plankton over a period of 13,300 years.
Sustainable Higher Ed
According to the National Agricultural Library, many U.S. universities and colleges now offer courses in sustainable farming and more than a dozen offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Even community colleges are adding two-year programs. This fall, Marshalltown Community College in Iowa kicks off a two-year sustainable agriculture degree program, the first of its kind in the Midwest. For more information, visit www.iavalley.cc.ia.us/mcc/SustainableAg/index.html. To see the list of universities and colleges with similar programs, go to www.nal.usda.gov and search for “Educational Programs.”
Prince of Organics
Duchy Originals, the organic food and drink company launched by England’s Prince Charles 14 years ago, has made its first $1 million in profit. Duchy Originals sells more than 130 products in Great Britain, including cookies, cheese, meats and ale. All the proceeds go to the Prince of Wales Charitable Foundation. Prince Charles, who had attracted ridicule for the company’s earlier losses, said he was delighted about the profits, according to The Daily Telegraph. U.S. and Canadian customers can order Duchy Originals products through www.windsorfarmshop.co.uk.
Back to the Earth
Yet another 1970s icon makes a comeback. This time it’s those funny-looking sandals, shoes and hippie boots with the heels lower than the toes — the original Earth shoes.
Danish yoga master Anne Kalso designed the shoes after a visit to Brazil, where she noticed the good posture of monks walking barefoot in the sand. In 1957, she developed the Negative Heel technology with the lowered heel and started selling her Kalso shoes out of a store in Copenhagen.
A U.S. couple, Raymond and Eleanor Jacobs, discovered Kalso’s shoes on a European excursion in the summer of 1969. They were so impressed with the unique construction and comfort that they made an agreement with Kalso to sell the shoes in the United States. The couple started selling the shoes out of a store in New York City on the first Earth Day — thus the name Earth shoes.
The Jacobs stopped selling the shoes in 1977, but after almost a three-decade hiatus, in 2000, Meynard Designs, a Massachusetts-based shoe manufacturing company, bought the rights to make and sell Earth shoes.
Today, the shoes still have their vintage look with the original negative heel sole, and they still focus on healthy living via good posture. Earlier this year, The American Podiatric Medical Association awarded its seal of acceptance to the Earth shoes.
The fall collection updates the heritage shoes with new colors and fabrics, and features several additions, including Airport Friendly Earth shoes (without steel shanks in the soles that set off metal detectors) and several first-ever Vegan styles, which use human-made materials and are certified by the Vegan Society.
To shop online or to find your nearest distributor, go to www.earth.us.
— Umut Newbury
Roadside Solar Power
Great Britain’s Highways Agency is making the sound barriers on one motorway in Portsmouth, England, do double duty.
This spring, the agency contracted with renewable energy company Solarcentury to install two 150-foot-long solar panels in front of a highway sound barrier.The panels will generate about 9,500 kilowatt-hours (kwh) of electricity each year; it will feed into the local grid and be used for lighting streets and signage, or simply sold back to the electricity suppliers.
The system is equivalent to roughly five domestic solar photovoltaic (PV) systems; one house worth of solar power could be installed every 33 feet of highway in Great Britain, according to Solarcentury ( www.solarcentury.com ).
The photovoltaic (PV) “thin film” was placed along the highway since the units contain no glass and are robust enough to withstand impacts from stones and other highway debris.
England already has hundreds of solar lighting systems in bus shelters and stops. Solarcentury also is testing solar-powered bus ticket machines for the Waterloo Bridge in London.
— Nancy Smith