Friday, January 21, 2011

GMO Woes: The Biggest Problem with "Frankencrops"

At least from my perspective, the biggest talking point regarding GMOs is a sort of panic that mutant plants will take over the earth. While cross-contamination is a legitimate concern particularly impacting conventional and organic farmers, I believe it is second to a bigger issue.

If you're a long-time reader, you may be surprised that I am less up-in-arms over cross-contamination than you might expect. This past summer, I had the opportunity to discuss GMO crops with a scientist/attorney (rare combo) from a liberal non-profit. He made a valid point: natural selection favors only those traits which make a given species better suited for survival. With regard to GMO crops generally, however, one must take action for the "benefit" of the GMO plant to be conferred.

For example, Monsanto crops that are genetically modified to survive heavy dosages of herbicide (RoundUp Ready) only confer a benefit if and when the crops are sprayed with Monsanto. Thus, these plants are not better suited or more likely to survive in the wild than their non-GMO counterparts. Note that this is not the case with all genetically engineered plants. Take the GE eucalyptus created by ArboGen. Already considered an invasive species, the cold-tolerant GE eucalyptus has some serious environmental implications--particularly because these thirsty suckers minimize groundwater, rendering their environments highly flammable.

In sum, the issue of GMOs and cross-contamination warrants serious consideration (particularly when GMOs like the ArboGen eucalyptus may be released for a field trial without an appropriate Environmental Impact Statement)--but it's not my number one source of acid reflux.

My number one concern is that when a crop is engineered to be resistant to chemicals, farmers who normally use such chemicals sparingly and as needed are now incentivized to douse their crops in toxins; better to immerse your crops frequently than sparingly, risking crop failure. I think the Organic Consumers Association does a great job of underscoring the concern of herbicide abuse and rallying activists--but the organization really undermines its own legitimacy when it uses terminology like "merchant of death" to describe Monsanto. In this case, the facts speak for themselves.

GMOs are a tricky issue because different kinds of GMOs present different issues. It's difficult to inherently write them off as "good" or "bad." What we really need is a nuanced discussion and a flexible regulatory scheme. Don't hold your breath.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Hugo's vegan mac n cheese is a hit

Thankfully, I have escaped the District of Columbia and have been chowing down on the much-missed vegan delights of Los Angeles. I hit up Hugo's in West Hollywood and and my eyes lit up when I saw vegan mac n cheese as a special. As you may know, I have really struggled to find adequate vegan mac n cheese. The only one I like is sadly frozen and so I try to limit it as much as possible given the law school schedule (Amy's Vegan Rice Macaroni & Cheeze).

Enter Hugo's. First, note that the mac n cheese is a special, and is therefore not a permanent feature of the menu. Second, note that it is not conventional mac n cheese. In fact, I would characterize it as more of a casserole. Not only was it poppin' with mushrooms and peas, the dish came covered in fried onions. yummmmm.

Dreading going back to the District and its lame plant-based foods.