The Future of Genetic Engineering

When projecting the development of genetically engineered foods, we first acknowledge that no one really knows what we might find on grocery shelves in the future.

It does seem likely, however, that consumers will not be given much information about their food products.

Last week, the U.S. Senate, by a vote of 63-30, passed a bill to establish a uniform national standard for labeling foods with genetically engineered ingredients.

Everyone supports a national standard for food labels. There’s nothing good about having each state require unique labels.

This legislation, however, provides a deeply flawed national standard for labels.

  • It does not penalize non-compliance, making it essentially voluntary.
  • It does not require simple, on-package labels, but allows the use of QR codes that can only be read with a smartphone.
  • It defines GE foods in a way that exempts a great many foods, as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration noted.

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said, “Here is a so-called labeling bill, but in fact it does the opposite…this so-called mandatory labeling bill isn’t mandatory, doesn’t label, and it excludes most GMO foods.”

The primary effect of the bill, then, is to preempt related state regulation in favor of this federal non-response to widespread consumer interest in knowing about their food.

The Senate bill now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives, which had already passed similar legislation and very likely will support the Senate’s version. The margin of approval appears to be enough to override a presidential veto.

What will GE technology produce in the future? We have already heard of so-called Arctic Apples that don’t turn brown as they age, crops that have chemical pesticides added internally, and several crops that are resistant to synthetic chemical weed killers. Each new food requires federal approval before it can be marketed, but approval is based on the producer’s own testing.

Recent advances in genetic engineering technology called CRISPR can be used to modify organisms by editing existing genes. This technology has enabled faster and cheaper tinkering with both flora and fauna: reportedly, a high school student with a little training and inexpensive lab resources could edit genes.

The products of gene editing do not involve the addition of foreign DNA and therefore do not require federal approval. Apparently, gene-edited foods also will not require labeling to indicate how they differ from natural foods.

The competitive marketplace will be the principal control over our food supplies. That could lead to interesting and valuable results. When novel products become popular (and some probably will), their prices will rise. There have been claims that labeling GE foods as such would increase prices, but those claims were never shown to be accurate.

Federal regulations already control which foods can be labeled as organic, and do not allow GE foods to be identified as organic. It remains to be seen whether foods with edited genes could be identified as organic. For now, consumers who are wary of foods that have been engineered, one way or another, should buy only foods that are labeled as organic.

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Controlling a Garden Thug

I recently described the Alstroemeria, a Chilean plant, as an example of a passalong plant, one that is desirable and also prolific in growth.

I also mentioned that this plant “produces large numbers of tubers, so many that it can be difficult to dig into a long-established bed.”

Since then, I have confronted such a bed in my garden.

Alstroemeria

A Cluster of Alstroemeria (click to enlarge)

The Peruvian Lilies (the common name for Alstroemeria) had overwhelmed a border of Avens (Geum chiloense), smaller plants in the Rose family, which are also native to Chile.

Two Aven cultivars, ‘Lady Stratheden’, with rich yellow blossoms, and ‘Mrs J. Bradshaw’, with rich scarlet blossoms, have earned by the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

Over a few years of growth, the Astroemerias had taken over a ten by ten-foot bed. Their tall flower stems had flopped into the garden path, and their tubers had spread under an edging of Sonoma fieldstones.

This is a plant that has much to offer but needs controlling.

As it happened just then, my gardener brought a new assistant, a strong young fellow with gardening experience and a pressing need to be gainfully employed. Perfect!

He made short work of the Alstroemeria bed. Rather than being tentative, I asked him to dig the plants out entirely. I intended to have him reshape the bed, and then replant a few tubers in the spirit of starting over.

There were two varieties of Alstroemeria in the bed: pink (shown in the photo) and apricot. Red, orange, purple, green, and white varieties are also available, with some searching. My helper dug out the pink-flowered plants and left the apricot varieties, which were located apart and not yet causing problems.

This work filled a large green waste cart with foliage, and four garden tubs with tubers! A dozen or more lunch bags filled with washed tubers were snapped up quickly from the Garden Exchange’s giveaway booth at the Garden Faire. The plant will be able to pursue its destiny in several other gardens.

The garden bed appeared to be Alstroemeria-free and ready for a fresh start, but a quick examination discovered a significant number of loose tubers lurking in the bed. Only tedious sifting of the soil might banish this plant from the area.

Assuming a positive attitude, we concluded that this is really an attractive plant after all, and the loose tubers made replanting unnecessary. The tubers surely will sprout in the near future so ongoing control involves plucking out seedlings that appear in the wrong places.

Being something of a “garden thug,” the Peruvian Lily has been recognized as a garden-worthy plant. The Royal Horticultural Society had given its Award of Merit to several cultivars: ‘Apollo’, ‘Coronet’, ‘Friendship’, ‘Orange Gem’, ‘Orange Glory’, and ‘Yellow Friendship’.

The lesson learned from this experience is that some plants, like some people, require more attention than others.

Battles over GE Labels

The battle over food labeling continues!

In the last week of June, 2016, a U.S. Senate Committee proposed legislation that would mandate labeling of foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Side note: Some news reports refer to labels for “genetically modified organisms” or “GMOs,” but the correct term is “genetically engineered organisms” or “GEOs.” Genetic modification includes hybrids that result from human intervention or natural processes, all within a single species. In comparison, genetic engineering involves transferring genes from one species to another. That’s very different!

This bill, called a “compromise,” appears to respond to the vast majority of consumers (up to 90%) who want to know if foods in grocery stores have been produced with genetic engineering. The bill calls for a “National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard.”

Consumer groups might applaud this bill but instead they are outraged. The bill includes a two-year delay and big loopholes, and lacks enforcement, but here are the two biggest objections:

First, the bill prohibits states from requiring food labels that differ from the federal standard. Requiring food manufacturers to follow the same rules in every state makes sense for everyone, but this bill proposes lower standards than have already been adopted legally in Vermont, and that go into effect on July 1, 2016.

Second, the bill allows food manufacturers to choose from several kinds of labels, including a text, symbol, or electronic or digital link to a website (but not a printed web address). Smaller manufacturers could provide a telephone number to ‘Call for more food information.’ By comparison, Vermont’s law requires food packages to have printed statement in words indicating the presence of GE ingredients. Consumer groups prefer the use of simple statements, and are critical of less accessible forms of information. In particular, they dislike the option for digital QR codes that the consumer must read with a smartphone to connect via the internet to information on GE ingredients.

Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association said the law “replaces the requirement for clear, on-package labels with a convoluted, inconvenient and discriminatory scheme involving barcodes and 1-800 numbers.”

Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety said, This kind of labeling system is inadequate and inherently discriminatory against one-third of Americans who do not own smartphones and even more so against rural, low-income and elderly populations or those without access to the internet.”

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has promised to place a hold on this legislation. Under Senate rules, a hold will require at least 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to overcome.

Senator Diane Feinstein of California wrote to President Obama years ago asking him to direct the Food & Drug Administration to revise its 21-year old policy that GE is “not necessarily a material fact that must be provided to consumers. She wrote, that surveys have shown that “genetic engineering is clearly of material importance to American consumers.

Wise people do not predict the actions of Congress, but I’m hopeful that plain text labels will eventually become the law of the land.

Vermont’s law is already being followed in some nationally distributed products because food companies do not want state-by-state labeling. Forward-looking companies have begun labeling their products as “GE-free” or “Contains GE ingredients,” and prices haven’t risen at all as a result.

Remember, too, that we already have federal certification of organic foods, which cannot include genetically engineered ingredients.

Click to read the Stabenow Bill on Food Labels.

To see the opposition to this bill by consumer groups, visit the websites of the following groups:
Organic Consumers Association,
Center for Food Safety, and
Just Label It.

Next Year’s Roses

Water your roses during the hot summer to keep them happy and blooming!

A month ago I recommended deadheading re-blooming roses to promote another cycle of blooms. Now, as the end of June approaches is the time to deadhead one-blooming roses, not to extend the season, but to support formation of the greatest number of new buds for the next season.

Roses respond predictably to seasonal attention.

One of my roses that should be deadheaded now is the prolific producer, Rosa mulligani, shown during its recent peak of bloom.

Rosa Mulligani

If my schedule includes deadheading this plant during the next couple weeks, it will provide an even greater cascade of blossoms display next year.

This time of the year is also a good time to contemplate roses in your landscape.

The traditional time for such reflection is late fall and early winter when bare-root roses appear in local garden centers. These are often bleak days for the landscape when avid gardeners hunger for a burst of color in the landscape and respond eagerly to the enticements of dozens of rose photographs.

That’s a good time to add roses to your garden, but not the best time to re-think the role of roses in your landscape.

Many gardens include three or more (perhaps many more!) shrub roses, clustered primarily for ease of maintenance. In other words, there is a rose garden.

The most popular varieties are hybrid tea roses, which cross Rebloomers and tea-scented roses from China, and modern English roses, which cross old roses with hybrid teas. The English roses, notably those by David Austin Roses in western England’s Shropshire County, combine several of the most appealing qualities of roses: hardiness, durability, and fragrance.

The gardener cannot go far wrong by collecting English roses. If you are enjoying your rose garden as it is now, that’s fine.

Still, consider fresh looks at your garden to explore new ideas and your evolving priorities. This approach can inspire creative challenges and new interest in gardening.

Here are a few possibilities.

  • Clustered plants. A popular recommendation is to plant roses in groups of three, to increase visual impact. This approach counters the familiar use of single specimens, which favors variety over garden design.
  • A color-oriented theme. This could be a single color, e.g., white, different shades of a single hue, e.g., pink, or a combination of two or three colors that work well together. A bi-color combination of climbers on a trellis or arch can be striking.
  • Touring rose varieties. Roses have been grown in temperate climates throughout the world for over 5,000 years. A long list of interesting varieties awaits your exploration. Begin an absorbing online research by entering “Wikipedia garden roses.” You could soon be on your way to comparing the common and uncommon varieties in your garden.
  • Combining 0nce-bloomers and re-bloomers. The once-bloomers introduce a different rhythm to the rose season. Some are single-flowered, with just five or seven petals, offering an entirely different look in comparison to the lush varieties with as many as 100 petals. Sometimes, less is more!

We have access to many fascinating varieties within the genus Rosa, even before exploring the ever-expanding universe of hybrids. Your gardening experiences can be enriched by adventuring through the genus.

Eco-culture at The Garden Faire

The Garden Faire, now in its 11th year, originally focused on the best practices of organic gardening, conserving our finite water supply and protecting our watersheds from chemical contamination.

The Garden Faire spreads out on Skypark's playing fields-300

Click to enlarge

The Faire continues to deliver these messages and has added broader perspectives that emphasize the overarching notions of sustainability and stewardship of the environment.

Another, more recent theme in the Garden Faire’s evolution focuses on the nutritional and healthful aspects of our food. Edible gardening predates ornamental gardening by thousands of years, and responds to our fundamental needs for sustenance, while ornamental gardening feeds higher levels of our consciousness. Edible and ornamental gardening are complementary and each is indispensable within its respective sphere.

The Garden Faire continues to change. This year’s theme, Cultivating an Ecoculture, explores ways that humans already partner with Nature and opportunities to strengthen that critical relationship.

To appreciate the timely importance of ecocultural ideas, consider the development of academic pursuits. At some early point in history, scholars categorized knowledge with the disciplines: natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts. They sub-divided each discipline into the numerous subjects we now encounter in formal education and splintered them further into courses within each subject.

The division of knowledge into academic disciplines responds to the human interest in managing and controlling nature and yields certain conveniences. Scholars can pursue specializations, schools can be organized into departments, courses and books can be labeled in ways that are widely understood.

Such arbitrary and artificial divisions also can lose awareness of the connectedness of biological and cultural diversity, and, indeed, of everything comprised by the diversity of life.

The academic disciplines are constructs, which depend for their existence on the minds of the persons who create them. They are not real objects, which are directly observable.

Today, as we are challenged by global issues of economic instability, resource degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change, our responses must be based on real objects, and on an integrative approach to conserving Nature alongside human culture.

In this pursuit, we can learn from the integrative approaches that indigenous cultures have practiced for millennia. These existing eco-cultures honor the unity of people with the rest of nature.

This brief article is not the place to enumerate specific eco-cultures of the world. For the present, it is sufficient to acknowledge that many groups, through many generations, have followed their instincts to achieve sustainability.

Working in harmony with nature is not a new idea. We see applications of that principle in gardening organically, conserving water wisely, consuming natural foods, exercising regularly to maintain body health. These are integrative practices that we can adopt readily as individuals.

As we increase the scale of human activities, however, and consider policies affecting groups of people, distractions and barriers come into play. The academic disciplines might not always support the connectedness of real objects, but they can serve as the basis of developing ecocultural practices. Indeed, many examples of cross-disciplinary and multidisciplinary initiatives can be cited. More would be helpful.

The work that lies ahead involves applying ecocultural concepts widely, in many (perhaps all) areas of human endeavor. The work includes adapting successful practices from the distant past to succeed in today’s fast-paced, complex society.

This work begins with individuals who grasp the concept and help to shape policies that will help to sustain life. It begins with you.

The world needs many conversations to advance the ecocultural perspective.

The Garden Faire supports one of those conversations for the Monterey Bay area, together with expert speakers on eco-culture, as well as gardening, water conservation, and nutrition. There’s much more: garden-oriented exhibitors, small farm animals, a krauting party, yoga and both familiar and exotic music.

***

IF YOU GO

What: The 11th Garden Faire

When: June 18th, 2016, 9:00 to 4:00, music continues to 9:00

Where: Skypark, Scotts Valley – free admission

Information:

The Garden Faire, now in its 11th year, originally focused on the best practices of organic gardening, conserving our finite water supply and protecting our watersheds from chemical contamination.

The Faire continues to deliver these messages, and has added broader perspectives that emphasize the over-arching notions of sustainability and stewardship of the environment.

Another, more recent theme in the Garden Faire’s evolution focuses on the nutritional and healthful aspects of our food. Edible gardening predates ornamental gardening by thousands of years, and responds to our fundamental needs for sustenance, while ornamental gardening feeds higher levels of our consciousness. Edible and ornamental gardening are complementary and each is indispensable within its respective sphere.

The Garden Faire continues to change. This year’s theme, Cultivating an Ecoculture, explores ways that humans already partner with Nature and opportunities to strengthen that critical relationship.

To appreciate the timely importance of ecocultural ideas, consider the development of academic pursuits. At some early point in history, scholars categorized knowledge with the disciplines: natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and arts. They sub-divided each discipline into the numerous subjects we now encounter in formal education, and splintered them further into courses within each subject.

The division of knowledge into academic disciplines responds to the human interest in managing and controlling nature, and yields certain conveniences. Scholars can pursue specializations, schools can be organized into departments, courses and books can be labeled in ways that are widely understood.

Such arbitrary and artificial divisions also can lose awareness of the connectedness of biological and cultural diversity, and, indeed, of everything comprised by the diversity of life.

The academic disciplines are constructs, which depend for their existence on the minds of the persons who create them. They are not real objects, which are directly observable.

Today, as we are challenged by global issues of economic instability, resource degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change, our responses must be based on real objects, and on an integrative approach to conserving Nature alongside human culture.

In this pursuit, we can learn from the integrative approaches that indigenous cultures have practiced for millennia. These existing eco-cultures honor the unity of people with the rest of nature.

This brief article is not the place to enumerate specific eco-cultures of the world. For the present, it is sufficient to acknowledge that many groups, through many generations, have followed their instincts to achieve sustainability.

Working in harmony with nature is not a new idea. We see applications of that principle in gardening organically, conserving water wisely, consuming natural foods, exercising regularly to maintain body health. These are integrative practices that we can adopt readily as individuals.

As we increase the scale of human activities, however, and consider policies affecting groups of people, distractions and barriers come into play. The academic disciplines might not always support the connectedness of real objects, but they can serve as the basis of developing ecocultural practices. Indeed, many examples of cross-disciplinary and multidisciplinary initiatives can be cited. More would be helpful.

The work that lies ahead involves applying ecocultural concepts widely, in many (perhaps all) areas of human endeavor. The work includes adapting successful practices from the distant past to succeed in today’s fast-paced, complex society.

This work begins with individuals who grasp the concept and help to shape policies that will help to sustain life. It begins with you.

The world needs many conversations to advance the ecocultural perspective.

The Garden Faire supports one of those conversations for the Monterey Bay area, together with expert speakers on eco-culture, as well as gardening, water conservation, and nutrition. There’s much more: garden-oriented exhibitors, small farm animals, a krauting party, yoga and both familiar and exotic music.

***

Tom Karwin is president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, president of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999-2009). Visit ongardening.com for links to information on this subject, and send comments or questions to gardening@karwin.com.

IF YOU GO

What: The 11th Garden Faire

When: June 18th, 2016, 9:00 to 4:00, music continues to 9:00

Where: Skypark, Scotts Valley – free admission

Information: http:/ /thegardenfaire.org