Do You Choose Organic Food Or Green Energy?
    By Hank Campbell | October 25th 2012 05:00 AM | 9 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Which do you love more, organic food or green energy?  Because you may have to choose.

    Oregon is the site of a conflict between food and energy, though it is a state that claims it loves both - but the people who love each primarily do so because it makes them money. You really can't love both anyway, because environmental activists are in a never-ending war against the bulk of society and its bad habits, and also in a war with each other.  They not only love Gaia more than you do, they love Gaia more than other environmentalists.

    Willamette Valley, which surrounds the Willamette River just east of the Coast Range and extends from south of Eugene to north of Salem, is a nice area to grow lots of crops, including those vegetables known as brassicas, like cabbage and cauliflower and other foods I won't touch. Organic stuff, of course, because it's Oregon, which is culturally like California, just with fewer people. 

    Like California, the conversation about right and wrong is dominated by social authoritarians.  They love to ban stuff.  California, which used to be the home of freedom and independence, leads America in banning things now but Oregon is not far behind.  One thing they ban is a particular brassica, canola.

    Yet green energy proponents would like for canola not to be banned.  In watching that discussion you get to witness the dirty underbelly of both kooky anti-science activism and organic food.  Organic cabbage growers say canola brings pests and that it will cross-pollinate with their absolutely pure plants that have apparently been untouched by outside forces for millenia.  They invoke, of course, genetic modification as the creepy monster hiding under the organic bed. "This is an existential threat," farmer Frank Morton, told the Jonathan Cooper of the Associated Press. "If canola comes here, it's the beginning of the end of this industry."

    Ummm, why again?  Right now, wheat farmers have to burn their fields to interrupt pest and disease cycles.  Doesn't that cause global warming?  Sure it does and therefore burning is...wait for it, wait for it...banned. Planting canola as an alternate crop would accomplish the same result - naturally - and also provide more green energy.

    Bureaucrats in Oregon agree, since the only other solution to curbing pests is evil pesticides but wealthy organic farmers, who, like rich progressives on the coast that see a proposal for windmills in the water and get a case of NIMBY-ism (Not In My Back Yard), are against canola. Green energy is great but it should be where poor people are, not where it works best, because it might interfere with yachting and the view.

    Organic cabbage growers have one more argument they invoke as often as possible - every other farmer is dumb. Basically, they believe wheat and rapeseed growers who also want canola are too stupid to control the stuff they produce.  Why isn't the entire area overrun with wild organic cabbage if these seeds spread so easily and take over entire regions?  Are organic plants just not robust enough to spread like wildfire the way activists think GMO canola will?

    That sounds like evolution at work.


    Canola is rapeseed. Which is not a cabbage, but a mustard. At least is it in fact a brassica. The cited article speaks to the cross-pollination problem which is a real one. Here is the quote:

    "Canola, by contrast, is uncommon in Oregon, where farmers planted just 6,500 acres of it this year, most of it in Eastern Oregon, across a mountain range from the brassica seed fields.

    Seed farmers here describe the expansion of canola as a Pandora's Box that, once opened, will destroy their industry.

    Wind can carry pollen up to five miles. Seed farmers worry that genetically modified canola plants will pollinate with organic brassicas, producing seeds with no value. They're especially concerned that canola would become a weed that takes root far and wide, producing pollen even inside the canola-free zone."

    Note "seed farmers", "...pollen up to five miles" and "canola is rare in Eastern Oregon". Dismissing their concerns with the trite "...have apparently been untouched by outside forces for millenia" disregards the substance of the problem. The existing farmers are growing genetically pure seeds. Wait, here's the quote "Specialty seed farmers grow vegetables not for the food but for their seeds. They're shipped to farmers around the world, especially in Asia and Europe where there's higher demand for foods that aren't genetically modified. This region produces nearly all of the world's European cabbage, Brussels sprouts, rutabaga and turnip seeds, according to a 2010 study by Oregon State University."

    This is an economic struggle. Established GM-free seed farmers want to protect their stock from cross-pollination which will destroy the economic value of their crop. Europeans (anti-science kooks?) prefer the non-GMO seed stock and are willing to pay Oregon farmers for that. Other farmers want to raise rapeseed in the same area because conditions are physically good for that crop. Portraying the dispute as a conclave of anti-science environmentalist kooks is quite dramatic.

    Pity the facts are glossed over - exactly like the anti-science kooks do - to make an emotional point.

    Canola is rapeseed. Which is not a cabbage, but a mustard.
    I never said it was a cabbage, I said the people complaining about canola grow organic cabbage.

    Your take on the cross-pollination issue mirrors that of the organic farmers, that science is big and scary and non-organic farmers are stupid and there is no control over this demon weed.  It's silly.
    Gerhard Adam
    This is about the specialty seed industry in the Willamette Valley currently doing about $32 million dollars in revenue to global customers, and whether they wish to risk that for a relatively low-profit introduction of canola.

    This isn't about organic farming of cabbages, instead it's about producing specialty seeds.  Part of the problem is that the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) apparently reversed itself [for no apparent reason] on its 2009 ruling, hence the controversy.  This rule, to keep canola out, was reached after a three-year study conducted by experts at Oregon State University.

    This present reversal is problematic, because it occurred without any consultation from the OSU individuals involved in the study.  As a result, this reeks of politics and has little to do with science.
    According to 2010 ODA data, Oregon’s specialty seed industry is worth more than $32 million. Canola is worth $2.5 million. Morton says that the seed industry sales are generated on only 10,000 acres, while canola takes many more thousands of acres to turn any sort of profit. Oregon sells its seeds to other countries whose seed crops are already contaminated by canola, Morton says.
    Mundus vult decipi
    The original decision was not science either, Ross Karow said the organic farmer concerns could easily be mitigated but "precaution suggests not allowing canola production at this time."  That was not science.

    "People keep asking, `Is there a scientific answer?' and there is not."
    Gerhard Adam
    BTW, you're incorrect in your characterization of GMO canola, since the Oregon rule doesn't differentiate.  So, this isn't a conflict between GMO and organic.  It's about specialty seeds versus canola [regardless of it's origins].

    This is no different than any industry encroaching on another and claiming potential impacts, whether it be a resort that is fighting a dump next door, or ranchers fighting the introduction of wolves into Yellowstone.

    The fact of the matter is that the growers in the Willamette Valley have a specialty product with a well-defined market that they aren't willing to risk.  To characterize them as "organic cabbage farmers' is comparable to saying that Rolls Royce makes motors.
    Mundus vult decipi
    "Basically, they believe wheat and rapeseed growers who also want canola are too stupid to control the stuff they produce." Thus, the comment that canola is rapeseed.

    Could you point out the words I wrote that lead you to conclude that "science is big and scary and non-organic farmers are stupid and there is no control over this demon weed." I thought I was pointing out some easy to verify facts. Facts which lead me to the conclusion that Frank Morton isn't afraid of science, nor that he is holier than those who want to bring in canola. He's afraid of diluting his valuable non-GM crop with GM cross pollination, specifically: "Seed farmers fear canola would cross-pollinate with their plants, destroying the value of the pure seeds they produce".

    This smells like an economic issue to me. The very next sentence "They're joined in their fight by organic-food lovers, small-farm advocates and opponents of genetically modified crops" brings in some other people who may well be anti-science kooks, but the one farmer quoted does not seem to be in that camp.

    The article cites a 2010 Oregon State study. A bit of searching yields this PDF: Page 16 is the cited study. It would appear that Johnathan Cooper of AP has accurately related the study's findings. That study asserts this: "These growers feel that high value Brassica vegetable seed crop production will be jeopardized if contamination occurs from canola. A seed lot will be rejected if more than three out‐crossed seed per 1,000 seed are found. Because of the potential for contamination, some specialty seed customers have threatened to pull all seed contracts, not just Brassica, from Western Oregon if canola production is allowed." No citation is given, so the study's authors could be making it up, and yet Dr Karow doesn't seem to be in the pocket of the specialty seed growers:

    The 2010 study tried to assess the likelihood that cross pollination would occur in the conditions in the Willamette Valley. "Conclusion: Cross‐pollination is possible under Western Oregon field conditions between some of the Brassica vegetable seed crops and canola. Cross‐pollination levels will be species and cultivar specific." It could be the perfect storm of anti-science kooks, or it could be one economic special interest group trying to keep another economic special interest group at bay.

    . . . including those vegetables known as brassicas, like cabbage and cauliflower and other foods I won't touch.
    I love Asian greens, and this year I’ve been trying to grow Mibuna.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Here's the real question: If you're growing open-pollinated, heirloom crops for seed production, claiming them to be pure and true-to-type, then you are by definition taking steps to prevent cross-pollination, or you're already out of business, right?

    The argument I've heard is that canola likes to out-breed, can do so with native weedy mustards, and they can then easily spread to other cabbage like crops. But still, in general growers know the risk of cross-pollination and are forced to take steps to ensure "pure" seeds. Why is canola really more of a crossing risk thatn say getting your heirloom brussel sprouts cross pollinated by heirloom kale?

    I think it smells more like an anti-GMO play more than anything else.

    Gerhard Adam
    I think it smells more like an anti-GMO play more than anything else.
    Say what you will, but the issue isn't specific to GMO canola.  It is canola in general that is in dispute here.

    It's actually pretty simple.  There's a $32 million industry that is doing quite well, and now there's an attempt to introduce canola [which is estimated at only being $2.5 million].  Why do you think those already engaged in producing specialty seeds aren't interested in introducing the risk?
    Mundus vult decipi