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October 21, 2016
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Notes from the NOFA-NY conference; Weekend of activism and organics

The NOFA-NY Kids Circus reaches heady heights.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY — The premier organization that represents organic farming interests in New York State approved a major policy statement at its annual conference last weekend, urging the ban of an herbicide used in conjunction with some genetically-modified agricultural crops. Some 1,300 people, including farmers and residents of the Upper Delaware Valley attended the Northeast Organic Farming Association-New York (NOFA-NY) conference in Saratoga Springs on January 25 through 27, during which about 75 NOFA-NY representatives approved some newsworthy policy resoutions.

Among the policy positions adopted was one that the herbicide glyphosate, which is used in connection with genetically modified organisms (GMO), should be banned. Some crops, known as “Round-Up Ready,” have been genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate. The resolution said there are “many troubling questions about livestock and human infertility and environmental impacts linked to the production and consumption of Round-Up Ready genetically modified organisms.... ”

Concerns about GMO products surfaced several times throughout the three-day conference. One workshop focused on the growing effort of activists to convince officials in the U.S. to follow the lead of more than 60 other countries around the world to require that products containing GMO ingredients be labeled as such.

In one workshop, Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union responded to industry claims that GMO seed varieties are more productive than traditional varieties. Hansen said the U.S. Department of Agriculture disputes this, and he cited a side-by-side study done at the University of Nebraska of GMO and non-GMO varieties of soy beans, which found the GMO seeds were 10% less productive.

Hansen also responded to industry claims that GMO crops would lead to a reduction in the use of pesticides. He said with most GMO crops, the amount of pesticides used has increased significantly over time. Further, he said the use of glyphosates has resulted in many weed species in the U.S. and elsewhere becoming resistant to it, which has prompted the industry to engineer crops with resistance to other herbicides, specifically 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid and Dicamba.

GMO crops also got a mention from Scott Chaskey, who is a past president of NOFA-NY and also an educator, conservationist, farmer and poet. During one of the two keynote speeches of the conference, Chaskey used a phrase coined by author Ronald Wright when he called the spreading use of GMO crops a “progress trap.” He said, “A progress trap is a short term social or technological improvement that turns out, in the long term, to be instead a backward step.”

The other keynote touched not on GMO crops but instead on nuclear power. Shinji Hashimoto is an organic farmer from Japan and head of that country’s Teikei, or association of consumer-supported agriculture operations. Part of his address dealt with organic farmers who were ordered off their land because it had been contaminated by radioactivity in the wake of the tsunami in March 2011, and the subsequent disaster at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

On the fringe of the contaminated area, one farmer was trying to prevent his rice plants from absorbing radioactive cesium by applying heavy applications of potassium. Hashimoto said the authorities insist they will clean the land, and eventually the famers and other villagers will be able to return.

Hashimoto, however, said the farming area is surrounded by forests. He said, “It’s not possible to clean the forests because the contaminants are among the leaves.” Even though government officials say otherwise, Hashimoto said, “They will never go back to their homes."