Sunday, April 23, 2006

Skoe (MN State Senator, District 2, DFL) uninformed about agricultural issues?

At the 7th Congressional District DFL Convention, Sen. Skoe defended his position against a moratorium on the introduction of genetically modified wild rice with a variety of bad arguments.

When the discussion was narrowed to specifics about likely modifications to wild rice and the Bt Cry toxin, I explained some of the specific knowledge I had of the ecological risks and also the original expectations on the culttural controls to reduce insect resistence on Bt transgenetic crops that their originators in academia imagined would be in place today (which are now weak recommendations and not legal requirements). I told Skoe that some of my professors had worked on the development, field trials, etc. of a Bt potato almost ten years ago. He said, "there was no such thing as a Bt potato". I was befuddled and surprised that he was on the Ag committee and seems to be the loudest proponent of GM crops in the state of Minnesota and yet is unaware of the history of genetically modified crop research at the University of Minnesota.

In searching the web to make sure that I was remembering everything correctly, I discovered that many other assertions of GM proponents in the State House Ag Committee during the introduction of house bill 3915 were hyperbole, spin, and premature declarations of successes that have not yet occurred, e.g. the discussion of Golden Rice - I know from my exposure to global humanitarian relief that GM contaminated food from the U.S. is still a major stumbling block in feeding the hungry in some of the world's poorest countries... most of the developing world does not want to lose market opportunities because of GM contamination and rejects aid including GM foodstuffs and obviously seeds for planting. Workarounds are now being set up to allow NGOs in Africa to sell on the international market Food Aid from the U.S. destined for Africa, so that they can buy more appropriate and acceptable foodstuffs in Africa, in part to satisfy these concerns about GM contamination, and because it is more efficient.

Anyway, here are some links to info about the Bt potato that Skoe insisted does not exist (and the non-existence of this research, field testing and introduction to market of the Bt potato was a clear indication to him that my arguments and experience can be dismissed out of hand):
GEO-PIE - a Cornell project about GMOs

A list of releases (including unregulated releases) of Monsanto GMOs in Europe, which include the Bt potato "New Leaf"

An abstract of a scientific journal article that highlights complex non-target interactions effecting the agroecosystem of the Bt potato

If Skoe wants to represent farmers in his district, he needs to develop a broader interest in agriculture and biotechnology than his limited self interest in his own paddy wild rice operation, and he must stop regurgitating the amatuerish arguments of the low-powered lobbyists that supposedly represent Monsanto and other biotechnology interests at the State Capitol, if he wants credibility as far as biotech goes.

There are plenty of was to use biotechnology to make money in Minnesota without having to preserve an option to make a GMO out of wild rice. The stockholders and scientists of Monsanto will understand that. I am not hostile to Monsanto, I use RoundUp, and I appreciate their charitable giving in support of systematic botany and collections at the Missouri Botanical Garden, etc., as well as the money they've contributed to applied biological reseach(on a much smaller scale) at the University of Minnesota.

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