Though some may be starting the work week yawning and scratching, I woke up early and excited, eager to see that fat, full moon set behind the mountains, aware that each day is now growing longer, glad that the holidays are officially pau, with the blank slate of a new year before us.
Over the weekend, I ran across a New York Times article about how small towns that passed laws against fracking are now locked in legal battles. It's a situation that closely parallels what is happening in Hawaii with the anti-GMO laws.
As the article reports:
In an aggressive response to a wave of citizen-led drilling bans, state officials, energy companies and industry groups are taking Longmont [Colo.] and other municipalities to court, forcing local governments into what critics say are expensive, long-shot efforts to defend the measures.
While the details vary — some municipalities have voted for outright bans, and others for multiyear suspensions of fracking — energy companies in city after city argue that they have a right to extract underground minerals, and that the drilling bans amount to voter-approved theft. They also say state agencies, not individual communities, are the ones with the power to set oil and gas rules.
Bryan Baum, a former mayor who opposed the ban, predicted that it would fall at every level of appeal, including at the Colorado Supreme Court, because only the state can regulate drilling. Now, as the case heads to higher courts, Mr. Baum said he believed many in town were developing buyer’s remorse about the ban.
“If we took that same vote, I think it would come out differently,” he said. “It’s cost the city a lot. It’s not just the money that it costs to defend these — it’s the opportunities and the industries it could’ve brought to our community.”
The SHAKA supporters of the Maui initiative, who initially agreed to have a federal magistrate hear the case, withdrew their approval, perhaps because they felt that Judge Barry Kurren, who overturned the Kauai and Big Island anti-GMO ordinances, would deal their measure a similar fate. Kurren, who also was subjected to a smear campaign by anti-GMO activists, in keeping with their MO of trying to discredit anyone who isn't in lock step, reassigned the case to Judge Susan Oki Mollway.
Yet despite the financial and social costs to Hawaii communities, and the likelihood that the laws will be overturned on the basis of state preemption, activists are still holding out a false promise to others:
Maui stands as a beacon of hope for other towns throughout the US who are interested in banning GMOs.
Mmm, don't count on it....
Meanwhile, the biotech industry is developing products that are genetically modified using new methods, such as “genome editing,” that are outside the purview of federal regulations. Which means they don't need to be approved by federal agencies before they're field-tested and sold.
Already in the works: herbicide-resistant canola, a corn that would create less pollution from livestock waste, switch grass tailored for biofuel production, Roundup-resistant grass that requires less mowing, an ornamental plant that glows in the dark and a potato that is supposed to make french fries less unhealthy.
As the New York Times reported:
But companies using the new techniques say that if the methods were not labeled genetic engineering, novel crops could be marketed or grown in Europe and other countries that do not readily accept genetically modified crops.
Freedom from oversight could also open opportunities for smaller companies and university breeders and for the modification of less common crops. Until now, in part because of the costs associated with regulation, crop biotechnology has been dominated by Monsanto and a handful of other big companies working mainly on widely grown crops like corn and soybeans.
Regulators around the world are now grappling with whether these techniques are even considered genetic engineering and how, if at all, they should be regulated.
“The technology is always one step ahead of the regulators,” said Michiel van Lookeren Campagne, head of biotechnology research at Syngenta, a seed and agricultural chemical company.
And two steps ahead of opponents...
The article concludes:
Jennifer Kuzma, co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University, said that there would soon be a flood of crops seeking regulatory exemptions and that there needed to be a public discourse about what should be regulated, in part to allay possible consumer anxiety.
“It’s not that I think these are risky,” she said of the crops escaping regulation. “But the very fact that this is the route we are taking without any discussion is troubling.”
Problem is, the GMO issue has become so politicized and polarized that any discussion, much less one that is reasonable and rational, is nearly impossible. Ironically, the activists who intentionally created this divisive climate may be left scrambling as the technology shifts and the “enemy” is no longer “Monsatan,” but dozens of small companies and universities.
Funny, how things work out in the end.