Going to MOSES

This Friday and Saturday, I will be attending the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Organic Farming Conference (OFC) in La Crosse, Wisconsin. By the time I had hear about it last year, it was too late to go, so this year I had it marked on my calendar, and I contacted the organizers months ago about a media pass. Now with my cheap hotel room reserved and fuel in the car I’m all set to go. What will I find at the conference?
This is the first conference of this type that I have gone to, although I have been to an organic show-and-tell shindig here at the UW, this conference will be new to me. From looking at the schedule, it seems that it is mostly oriented toward farmers, but there should be plenty for me to check out.
The first thing I will see when I get there is the seed swap, which will be a first for me. There is a possibility that I will be able to interview someone about seed saving and/or backyard breeding. Otherwise I’ll take a good look around and maybe get some comments from people.
Saturday will be an interesting day for me, though. At 8:30 in the morning, Charles Benbrook from The Organic Center will be giving a talk:

Telling the Story of Organic Food Health
Saturday I – 8:30am

More than raw data about the environmental impact of pesticides or the benefits of organic food, stories and illustrative examples provide an effective way to communicate about organic agriculture. The Organic Center’s Chuck Benbrook will share meaningful ways to provide a clear understanding of the consumer and environmental health benefits of organic farming.

Then, at 10:30 am, Margaret Mellon from the Union of Concerned Scientists will be giving a keynote address:

DR. MARGARET MELLON “Two Views of Food Safety: Organic Agriculture and Biotechnology”
Saturday, February 27th

Dr. Margaret Mellon directs the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The program promotes a transition to sustainable agriculture and focuses on critically evaluating the use of biotechnology in plant and animal agriculture as well as assessing animal agriculture’s contribution to the rise of antibiotic-resistant disease. Trained as both a scientist and a lawyer, Mellon considers food safety through two lenses: organic agriculture and biotechnology. Exploring how people relate to food safety in these contexts as well as through scientific and legal perspectives, Mellon’s work considers how to put the issue of food safety into the context of the ongoing debates about the future of agriculture.

I have requested an interview with both Benbrook and Mellon, and as of today they both agreed. Their talks are back-to-back, however if I have to skip part of lunch to do it I will! I will be interviewing them by audio, and I will post the interviews to the blog. If there is something that you would like me to ask them, please let me know in the comments below, or send me a message through our contact form.
There is also another talk at 2 pm which I would like to catch.

GMOs and the Fight for Organic Integrity
Saturday II – 2:00pm

While evidence mounts to show that GMOs harm humans, fail to increase crop yields, and will contaminate organic crops, a new wave of GMOs is being introduced, threatening the ability of consumers to choose non-GMO foods. Join Center for Food Safety staff attorney Zelig Golden to learn about legal strategies to protect organic crops from contamination.

I wonder what he thinks about protecting the integrity of conventional white cotton from contamination by colorful organic cotton? Pollen flows both ways.
But one talk I am certainly looking forward to is this one!

Managing Nests for Native Bees
Saturday III – 4:00pm

Artificial nests can boost local populations of native pollinators, but they must be actively managed to avoid negative impacts on local bee populations. Join the Xerces Society’s Eric Mader for an overview of native bee biology, and guidance on how to construct and manage artificial nests for native pollinators in an ecologically sound manner.

Eric Mader is actually speaking in my building on Friday, but I will miss his seminar due to the conference, so it is great that he will be there because I’ve been meaning to build some artificial nests for bumblebees this year and I bet he will know what I need to do. This talk will be a great way to end the day before the 4-hour drive back to Madison.


  1. Woah “While evidence mounts to show that GMOs harm humans, fail to increase crop yields” I hope they back that up with something more than Serralini and Benbrook!

  2. Oh, I just noticed something – why does Dr. Mellon’s talk cover antibiotic resistance? It has nothing to do with biotech. I get that that’s part of what their Food and Environment Program studies, but that sounds like an awful lot to cover for one talk. Man, I wish I was there, I am so jealous!

  3. Yeah it seems like a weird combo – I wonder if that’s a consequence of the ‘two lenses’ approach – if it isn’t organic it’s the biotech-industrial complex? Naturally, I’m curious what the talk will be about.
    I’m very curious to see the lawyer’s best legal argument about pollen flow – might be very educational, to say the least. And in other news, sweet corn farmers sue over field corn pollen drift…

  4. Oooh Karl. I think you just hit upon something big. Sweet corn pollinated by field corn is seriously GROSS. I happily harvested, boiled, and salted some big beautiful “sweet” corn ears from the edge of our sweet corn patch in the middle of our (non-transgenic) experimental plot. I was in a hurry, I wasn’t really thinking about what plants pollinated the ear I was planning to eat… and boy did I learn my lesson. Thereafter I started harvesting sweet corn from at least 2 plants in.
    I imagine that sweet corn farmers have to plant border rows on the edges of their plots to ensure that their customers don’t get the yucky experience that I did. Do they blame their neighbors growing non-sweet corn for their pollen contaminating the sweet corn? According to anti-biotech advocates, the farmers should sue!

  5. I too, have accidentally ran into field corn kernels hiding in sweet corn ears. Not fun.
    Essentially, the problem I see is that people are trying to apply an artificial human concept, Liability, (incl. patents) to the vagaries of nature. Monsanto first wanted to sue over low levels of GE pollen drift, and now perhaps the organic folks want to sue back… same problem.
    I wasn’t there very long this evening, but I talked to a sweet corn farmer who also grows field corn and we actually talked a bit about this. And he understood my point about the risk of assigning blame to the pollen source as a rule, and I suggested that it could in turn be used against organic farmers in the future when the genes that their crops spread around are unwanted in some other farmer’s field.
    I’m hoping to start a dialogue with the lawyer from the CFS because I would really like to understand what their best argument is.
    And it looks like they let Frank in, I saw him checking out some seed potatoes!

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