Crestone Eagle, January 2005:
Biodiesel and GMOs in the SLV
by Linda Spade
This past October, Blue Sun Biodiesel held the grand opening
of its plant in Alamosa. Biodiesel is a good thing, right?
Gas prices have only recently come down from over $2 a gallon.
Like a junkie looking for the next fix, the hunt for the last
vestiges of petroleum is global, from the Amazon to the Alaska
Blue Sun will be producing B20, a mixture composed of 20%
locally grown canola oil and 80% regular old petroleum-based
diesel fuel. Well, 20% is better than nothing, but since it
is possible, why not 100%?
So how are we so lucky to have a biodiesel plant right in
our neighborhood? The Energy Policy Act of 1992 was passed
by Congress to reduce our nation’s dependence on imported
petroleum by requiring certain fleets to acquire alternative
fuel vehicles. It was amended by the Energy Conservation Reauthorization
Act of 1998 to include biodiesel fuel use as a way for federal,
state and public utility fleets to meet requirements for using
On October 21, Blue Sun opened their biodiesel plant. The
next day, President Bush signed a bill containing a biodiesel
tax incentive effective January 1, 2005 which lasts two years.
It is structured as a federal excise tax credit, and amounts
to a penny per percentage point of biodiesel blended with
petroleum diesel for first-use oils like canola oil, and a
half penny per percentage for biodiesel made from other sources,
like recycled cooking oil. According to biodiesel researcher
Nick Chambers, “there are 3.5 billion gallons of used
cooking oil sitting in American alleyways.” The tax
incentive is expected to increase biodiesel demand from an
estimated 30 million gallons in 2004 to at least 124 million
gallons per year.
Blue Sun’s crop research and development program is
funded by a Department of Energy grant of $100,000 awarded
in July 2003 and another $750,000 in July 2004. Their team
consists of agronomists from the University of Nebraska, Kansas
State University and Colorado State University. Blue Sun is
paying a subsidized 12 cents per pound for harvested canola
seed due to a $450,000 grant from the USDA.
Blue Sun is contracting with local SLV farmers, primarily
in Center, to grow canola for their biodiesel production facility
in Alamosa. They are required to be part of a grower’s
cooperative called BlueSun Producers. The farmers who sign
up will not only be compensated for their crop but will participate
in BlueSun profit sharing. Blue Sun met with valley growers
at Adams State College and has 10 farmers under contract now
and hopes to have 50 by February or March 2005. Fifty thousand
acres a year of canola seed is required to produce 430 gallons
a day of biodiesel. Once a farmer joins the cooperative, they
obtain their seed through this coop and can choose whether
to purchase open-pollinated “Oscar” from Australia
or a genetically engineered variety. Two-thirds of the canola
crop grown in the United States is genetically engineered.
Genetically Modified Canola
Canola is in the mustard family. Other species include broccoli,
cauliflower, kale, brussel sprouts, horseradish, mustard greens,
rutabaga, rape, collards, kohlrabi, turnip, Chinese cabbage,
arugula, radish and watercress. All members within each of
the species cross with one another. Canola pollen can travel
up to 2 miles. Judging by spring wind velocity in the San
Luis Valley, the pollen will likely travel somewhat farther.
According to Nick Chambers, Croplan Genetics, a North Dakota
seed company involved in much of the San Luis Valley’s
canola, offers 16 varieties of canola seed. They claim that
the open pollinated canola is “the simplest type to
produce and is normally less expensive. They show consistent
performance and are comparable to synthetics and hybrids under
less than ideal growing conditions.” They also offer
three “herbicide tolerant” canola varieties: Monsanto’s
Roundup Ready®, Liberty Link® and Clearfield®.
They claim that these three synthetics make canola growing
an option as previously “weed management had prevented
canola as an alternative in a minimum or zero tillage rotation.”
There is no difference in the oil yield between open pollinated
and genetically modified canola seed.
Caroline Fox of the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to
Pesticides (www.pesticide.org) wrote an herbicide fact sheet
on Roundup®. “Studies of farmers and other people
exposed to glyphosate herbicides (Roundup) have shown that
this exposure is linked with increased risks of the cancer
non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, miscarriages, and attention
deficit disorder. There is evidence that they can reduce production
of sex hormones and can commonly contaminate streams in both
agricultural and urban areas. They have caused genetic damage
in laboratory tests with human cells. Symptoms of exposure
to glyphosate include eye irritation, burning eyes, blurred
vision, skin rashes, burning or itchy skin, nausea, sore throat,
asthma and difficulty breathing, headache, lethargy, nose
bleeds and dizziness.” Anyone here have any of these
symptoms during spring planting when there’s so much
dust in the air you can’t see the car in front of you?
A farmer can spray Roundup herbicide over an entire field,
kill all the weeds growing there, and not hurt the canola
crops, as long as it comes from Monsanto’s “RoundUp
Ready”. Of course, the “weeds” develop a
greater and greater resistance to the herbicide, requiring
more and more of it just as we develop resistance to antibiotics.
According to the Center for Food Safety, a number of studies
over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered
foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals,
wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include
higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance,
immune suppression and cancer.
Genetically Modified Crop Bans
Genetically engineered crops have been banned in Europe, Australia,
Africa and most recently, Medocino County, California. Apparently
Europeans are looking at Americans as guinea pigs, and if
we don’t show any ill effects from GMO’s, they
might consider using them. The European Union has blocked
imports of Monsanto’s GM oilseed rape.
It has become illegal for a farmer to save his own GMO seed.
Farmers can now be forced to buy products from multinational
corporations without even knowing they are doing so.
Growing canola in the San Luis Valley is a great idea. It
is a short season crop that can be rotated with winter wheat,
it uses little water and tolerates cool weather. But let’s
make it open pollinated canola. Then the biodiesel will truly
be a win-win situation for everyone in the San Luis Valley.
by Linda Spade
Recently KRZA aired a Bioneers program titled “I Heard
the Voice of a Pork Chop”, tidily summarizing the possibilities.
In the program, a soil scientist was screening some genetically
engineered plant organisms and found one that had a bacteria
that produced alcohol in 17 ppm, which, if released, would
have killed all plant life globally.
Take a gene for a desired trait from an unrelated species
(plant, animal, bacterium, or virus) and introduce it into
a crop. The resulting genetically modified crop is sometimes
called a "GMO," or genetically modified organism.
Example: Roundup Ready crops contain a gene from a bacterium
that breaks down the herbicide Roundup.
There are two common methods for introducing foreign genes
into crop plant DNA:
1. The gene gun shoots microscopic gold particles coated with
genetic material into plant cells. The particles penetrate
the cells, and some genes enter the cell nuclei and become
part of the cell's genetic material. This applies primarily
to narrow-leaved plants such as grasses and grains.
2. Researchers place the foreign gene into the bacterium Agrobacterium
tumefaciens then infect the plant with it. The bacterium transfers
the gene into the plant's cells, where it becomes part of
the cells' genetic material. This works for broad-leaved plants
such as tobacco, tomato, and potato.
Treat seeds or plant tissue with chemicals or radiation to
modify (mutate) the plant's own DNA. Then grow the seeds into
plants, and screen the plants for new qualities.
Example: Imidazolinone-resistant wheat contains a gene that
prevents the herbicide from binding to its target site.
Seeds are agitated in a beaker with the mutating chemical.
The chemical modifies certain bases in the DNA molecule, resulting
in gene mutations.
GMO—a genetically modified organism.
Genome—the sum total of the genetic
material (DNA) of an organism.
Genetic engineering—taking genetic
material from one organism and inserting it into the permanent
genetic code of another organism. You can come up with such
novel creations as potatoes with bacteria genes, “super”
pigs with human growth genes, fish with cattle growth genes
or tomatoes with flounder genes. These creations are being
patented and released into the environment without any testing.