Progress on GMO Labels

 

Congress continues to battle over food labels, with a recent victory for the public interest.

People who want to know what they’re eating can read Nutrition Fact labels, which the U.S. Food & Drug Administration requires to list the nutritional content of the food product.

In recent years, scientists have developed ways to bypass natural changes in foods by tinkering with their genetic makeup. The results are called genetically modified organisms or GMOs.

The FDA says that GMOs do not differ nutritionally from other foods, and has not required labeling of GMOs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, says that GMOs do not qualify as organic foods.

Still, many consumers—the overwhelming majority, in fact—want to know if fruits and vegetables are GMOs and if food products in grocery stores contain GMOs. Consumers are concerned that GMOs could produce seeds that float into fields of organic foods and change them, or that GMOs have undiscovered ill affects on our health or the environment, or that GMOs enable agribusiness to control the market for seeds. (Historically, farmers would simply save seeds from one year’s crop to plant in the following year.)

Monsanto Corporation and a few other companies that develop GMOs strongly oppose labels that identify GMOs, believing that consumers will interpret such labels as warnings and avoid such foods. Several countries have either banned GMOs or required them to be labeled. In the U.S., some local governments have banned GMOs and several states have tried to pass laws requiring labeling, but industry lobbyists succeeded with intensive campaigns to defeat those initiatives.

One state, Vermont, has approved a GMO labeling law that is to go into effect on July 1st. Some food industry companies opposed Vermont’s law legally, but lost in court. Those opponents have asked Congress to block the states, including Vermont, from requiring GMO labels.

On March 1, 2016, Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) introduced the National Voluntary Bioengineered Food Labeling Standard (S. 2609) to (a) allow voluntary labeling of GMO foods, (b) prohibit states from requiring GMO labels, and (c) mandate a federal program to promote consumer acceptance of agricultural biotechnology.

Several consumer groups called this legislation the Denying A Right to Know (DARK) Act and urged consumers to ask their state senators to vote it down. These groups want mandatory labeling on the packages of food products, using clear language and not codes, symbols or acronyms. They dismiss industry claims that such labels would increase the cost of foods: two large companies, Campbell and General Mills, soon will begin labeling GMOs without added costs.

The Senate quickly rejected S. 2609 with a margin of eleven votes. Senator Roberts has vowed to sweeten it a little and bring it back.

Meanwhile, a group of six senators introduced Biotechnology Food Labeling Uniformity Act (S. 2621) to establish a requirement for standard labeling of GMO foods. The sponsors include Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT).

If you wish to avoid GMOs, your best option is to buy organic foods. By federal law, foods labeled as organic cannot contain GMOs.

***

The plant exchanges are springing into action! Several occur each year in the Monterey Bay area. The first one spotted, a monthly occasion, begins Saturday, March 26th (yes, tomorrow) at the Live Oak Grange Hall parking lot, 1900 17th Ave, Santa Cruz. Plant exchanges bring together gardeners who prefer to share their surplus plants with other gardeners who enjoy expanding their gardens without cost. Great tradition!

Propagating Plants

According to meteorologists, the Spring Equinox occurs tomorrow (Saturday), just before midnight, but the first full day of spring will be on the following day (Sunday).

In any event, spring’s arrival inspires many thoughts of gardening opportunities. This column addresses three timely tasks.

Propagating Plants from Cuttings

First, real gardening includes the propagation of plants. One method for getting new plants that is particularly good in the early spring is taking cuttings from existing plants. The timing is good because cutting from the new growth of existing plants can be rooted easily.

Practicing this technique is both frugal and fun, so survey your garden and the gardens of others for plants that you would like to propagate, either to add to your own garden or to gift to other gardeners. If you want more of someone else’s plants, ask permission to take cuttings!

Start by preparing your containers, e.g., small plastic nursery pots, by filling them with planting mix from a garden center, rather than garden soil, which might have bacteria or fungi that could harm young plants.

Using clean clippers, take cuttings of about three inches from the tender green growing tips of plants. The cuttings should be flexible, not woody.

Strip the lower leaves from the cuttings, and insert the stems into damp soil. Place the planted containers where they will be warm but protected from direct sunlight.

Follow up by keeping the cuttings moist. This involves occasional watering and perhaps providing a mini-greenhouse of plastic sheeting to reduce water loss from evaporation. If moisture condenses on this covering, the cuttings could be too moist and vulnerable to fungal problems, so remove the covering for an hour or two to let the excess moisture evaporate.

Your new plants could require several weeks to establish roots, at which time they will develop new leaves. To check their status, tug very gently on the cutting to detect resistance from the new roots.

When you have rooted cuttings, move the plants into larger containers or the garden, and congratulate yourself.

Propagating Plants from Seeds

Planting seeds is also a frugal and fun approach to real gardening. The process is very similar to propagation from cuttings, but it offers a broader range of options and requires more time.

Seeds are available from garden centers. If you want to grow varieties that are not offered by a local garden center, visit Cyndi’s Catalog of Garden Catalogs (www.gardenlist.com/) for many, many options.

Almost all seed packets have basic instructions for growing the particular seeds.

Propagating Plants from Plant Sales

You could get more of the plant you like by just buying them. That approach also works for plants that are new to your garden!

Mark April 9th on your calendar for the combined plant sales of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and the California Native Plant Society, Santa Cruz County Chapter. For information, visit the Arboretum’s website (arboretum.ucsc.edu/news-events/events/).

Mark April 23rd & 24th on your calendar for the Spring Show & Sale of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society. For information, visit the Society’s website (mbsucculent.org).

Spring is here and time to enjoy your garden!

Pruning Daphnes and Salvias

According to meteorologists, the Spring Equinox occurs tomorrow (Saturday), just before midnight, but the first full day of spring will be on the following day (Sunday).

In any event, spring’s arrival inspires many thoughts of gardening opportunities. This column addresses three timely tasks.

Propagating Plants from Cuttings

First, real gardening includes the propagation of plants. One method for getting new plants that is particularly good in the early spring is taking cuttings from existing plants. The timing is good because cutting from the new growth of existing plants can be rooted easily.

Practicing this technique is both frugal and fun, so survey your garden and the gardens of others for plants that you would like to propagate, either to add to your own garden or to gift to other gardeners. If you want more of someone else’s plants, ask permission to take cuttings!

Start by preparing your containers, e.g., small plastic nursery pots, by filling them with planting mix from a garden center, rather than garden soil, which might have bacteria or fungi that could harm young plants.

Using clean clippers, take cuttings of about three inches from the tender green growing tips of plants. The cuttings should be flexible, not woody.

Strip the lower leaves from the cuttings, and insert the stems into damp soil. Place the planted containers where they will be warm but protected from direct sunlight.

Follow up by keeping the cuttings moist. This involves occasional watering and perhaps providing a mini-greenhouse of plastic sheeting to reduce water loss from evaporation. If moisture condenses on this covering, the cuttings could be too moist and vulnerable to fungal problems, so remove the covering for an hour or two to let the excess moisture evaporate.

Your new plants could require several weeks to establish roots, at which time they will develop new leaves. To check their status, tug very gently on the cutting to detect resistance from the new roots.

When you have rooted cuttings, move the plants into larger containers or the garden, and congratulate yourself.

Propagating Plants from Seeds

Planting seeds is also a frugal and fun approach to real gardening. The process is very similar to propagation from cuttings, but it offers a broader range of options and requires more time.

Seeds are available from garden centers. If you want to grow varieties that are not offered by a local garden center, visit Cyndi’s Catalog of Garden Catalogs (www.gardenlist.com/) for many, many options.

Almost all seed packets have basic instructions for growing the particular seeds.

Propagating Plants from Plant Sales

You could get more of the plant you like by just buying them. That approach also works for plants that are new to your garden!

Mark April 9th on your calendar for the combined plant sales of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and the California Native Plant Society, Santa Cruz County Chapter. For information, visit the Arboretum’s website (arboretum.ucsc.edu/news-events/events/).

Mark April 23rd & 24th on your calendar for the Spring Show & Sale of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society. For information, visit the Society’s website (mbsucculent.org).

Spring is here and time to enjoy your garden!

Gardening Events – 2016

Let’s survey the gardening events of the New Year. The following list includes recurring, mostly free annual events in the Monterey Bay area. The list includes the currently available date information, and identifies organizers for more details.

I invite readers to provide additions. I will post an updated calendar, suitable for display, on my website.

Winter Quarter

Fungus Fair, Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz, www.ffsc.us, January 8, 9 & 10

Scion Exchange, California Rare Fruit Growers, monterey_bay@crfg.org, January 10

Eco-Farm Conference, Ecological Farming Association, https://eco-farm.org/, January 20-23

Solstice Fest, UCSC Arboretum, http://arboretum.ucsc.edu/ , January 23

Hummingbird Day, UCSC Arboretum, http://arboretum.ucsc.edu/, March 5-6

Phenology Walk, UCSC Arboretum, http://arboretum.ucsc.edu/, January 16

Flower & Garden Show, San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, http://sfgardenshow.com/ , March 16-20

California Naturalist Program, UCSC Arboretum, http://arboretum.ucsc.edu/, begins March 24

Spring Quarter

Plant Sale, UCSC Arboretum, April 9

Plant Sale, California Native Plant Society, April 9

Dahlia Sale, Monterey Bay Dahlia Society, early April

Garden Fair, Monterey Bay Master Gardeners, early April

Garden Fair, Santa Cruz Earth Day, April 16

Plant Sale, Monterey Bay Cactus & Succulent Society April 23-24

Garden Fair & Plant Sale, MEarth, late April

Iris Show, Monterey Bay Iris Society, late April

Plant Sale, Cabrillo College Horticultural Dept., May 8

Garden Tour, St. Phillips Church, early May

Rose Show, Monterey Bay Rose Society, early May

Garden Tour, Monterey Bay Master Gardeners, mid-May

Garden Tour, Santa Cruz Baroque Festival, May 22

Consulting Rosarian School, Monterey Bay Rose Society, early June

Greenhouse Open House, Monterey Bay Greenhouse Growers, late June

Garden Fair, The Garden Faire, late June

Boot Camp, Monterey Bay Master Gardeners, mid-June

Summer Quarter

Plant Sale, Monterey Bay Iris Society, August 6 & 13

Plant Show, Monterey Bay Dahlia Society, late August

Succulent Extravaganza, Succulent Gardens, late September

Fall Quarter

Plant Sale, Monterey Bay Cactus & Succulent Society, October 1-2

Plant Sale, UCSC Arboretum, early October

Plant Sale, California Native Plant Society, early October

Orchid Show, Santa Cruz Orchid Society, mid-November