Sweet Sustainability: May 31, 2014
I’m a farm wife – of a grain farmer. A GMO grain farmer. There’s been a lot of heated debates about GMOs lately, as there should be, and it seems like I hear the same things repeated over and over in our agricultural community. If you’re against GMOs, you’re against farmers. If you’re against GMOs, you must be some yuppie woman from the city who drops her children off at their charter school, hits up her organic market, and goes back to her 7th floor flat to practice her internet activism against GMOs. If you are that mom, no offense, and the movement can certainly use you, provided that you really do your research and don’t quote things from NaturalNews without first making sure they are entirely unbiased and true. 🙂
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who loves agriculture more than I do. I grew up in a farming family; my family raised produce, garden plants, meat animals and horses. Granddaddy also tanned hides to sell, traded ginseng, and had a ham store that really was internationally-renowned. I still remember the smell of the curing days in the fall – spicy peppers and sweet brown sugar. Yum. It’s making me hungry. But I digress. I loved agriculture so much that I majored in it in undergrad at Virginia Tech. B.S. in Animal and Poultry Sciences. I even went on to get my M.S. in Agriculture and Extension Education. After college, I was lucky enough to meet a grain farmer who was crazy handsome and sweet and funny and all of those things that scream husband material. And he somehow found me cute and fun enough to marry. My idea of a great morning is a hot cup of locally-roasted coffee accompanying me out into the garden until my boys wake up and coming back in the house sweaty, accomplished, and with really dirty jean knees. Here I stand actually, 5 months pregnant, sweaty, with dirty jean knees, writing this post as I make dinner while the boys are out checking soils at the different farm fields. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As I mentioned above, I married a grain farmer. When I met him, my only thought was “well that’s neat”, because my family had never been involved in cereal grain production. We’re near the East Coast and grains aren’t as huge here as they are in say, the Midwest. Now that I know what they are, I remember seeing sprayers in fields and thinking “Wow, it must cost a lot of money to irrigate fields with all that water!” I kind of wish I still thought it was water. My family had never used any chemicals other than lime in our fields, so chemical agriculture was a whole new ballgame to me. I literally had no clue. Fast forward seven years, and here I am writing this post. Why now? Well, a few reasons. The debate heating up obviously makes it a good time. But I also feel like there are some of us who haven’t had a voice in that debate, or at least been outspoken enough. And by “we”, I mean farmers who don’t actually *like* GMOs. Now my qualifications as a farmer may be iffy – I don’t actually help my husband in the field, and I’m not employed by his farm. I’m a mere spectator to that part. My “farming” is in my chickens down the hill, my berry patches, and my garden. That said, I’m pretty well familiar with all of the facets of his operation. He and I don’t agree 100% on the topic, but nor do we disagree. Yes, he does grow GMO corn and soy. He also grows non-GMO corn, which he started last year. Why does he grow GMOs if he’s not necessarily a fan of them? The answer lies in you, and me, and all of us, as consumers. Farming is his job. It’s what brings home money for our family. And if we didn’t have an income, I wouldn’t be able to communicate with you right now. He grows what the consumer demands – which is one reason he started growing non-GMO corn. Because we’re NOT in the “grain belt”, grain elevators here are hard to find that take non-GMO grains separately. In short, there’s no market for non-GMO unless we find a small supplier that’s willing to take a chance on it (which is what happened this year and last, thankfully). If we grow non-GMO and nobody buys it, that doesn’t help you, or us.
So to the meat of it – why would I hate GMOs? Well, I’m going to outline several reasons. Sure, part of what you hear from me will be what you’ve heard from other GMO activists. Safety concerns, concerns about evil corporations, etc. I do not disagree with those points that many activists make. And let me say here that many times, when I’ve heard folks insult “anti-GMO activists” and I chime in, I get the “Well yeah but you’re not one of the crazy activists, so you don’t count in [whatever insult I just made]” Aren’t I? I readily admit I am one of the most outspoken people you will find on the topic. I don’t hesitate to write legislators, sign petitions, or call Monsanto on their BS on their Facebook page. I AM one of those crazy activists. And that’s fine with me. You don’t change the world by behaving. But my reasons for hating GMOs go way beyond many of the normal things you usually hear from The Activists. I truly feel that these companies and these seeds are threatening to utterly DESTROY our industry.
#1. Proof of Safety? Doubtful. On either side of the debate, you’ve heard this one: “GMOs have a long, proven track record of safety. Plenty of peer-reviewed studies have all proven that they are completely safe.” Ehhhhh not so much. Once you really start looking into these “studies”, you realize that ALL – let me repeat that – ALL of them are industry-sponsored. What does that mean? Well, to put it in basics, Monsanto has conducted a study to say that Monsanto’s products are completely safe. See the problem here? Those safety studies determine the future of their products and their company. If you were Monsanto, would you not ensure that if you’re going to conduct a study, it comes out in your favor? There have been NO independent studies done on GMOs that have been approved, because the seeds are patented and the GMO manufacturers will not release the patents for independent testing. Furthermore, the FDA/USDA/ANY other regulatory agency does NOT test, nor sponsor testing of GMOs. The only requirements for these federal agencies to say these products are safe are 30-day trials, conducted by the companies themselves. Look at the incidence of degenerative diseases in our society. 100 years ago, we worried about communicable diseases – diseases passed from one person to the other. Today, we worry much more about diseases that have nothing to do with “catching” anything from the folks around us. Lots of people are chalking it up to genetics but as a species evolves, does it not improve genetically? Do I think GMOs are the cause of cancers, Alzheimer’s, and other degenerative diseases? No, probably not on their own. Do I think what we are putting on and in our bodies is the cause? AB-SO-FREAKING-LUTELY. Perhaps our genes make us more predisposed to developing these conditions, but the CAUSE is not our genes; it is our food, and the chemicals that we surround ourselves with. Being anti-GMO is NOT being anti-science, or anti-technology. It is being anti-industry-bullshit. I’m of the opinion that until we really get some good, long-term information about how we digest the changed genetic structures of these GMOs and how they can affect our bodies, they should not be in virtually every food we eat.
#2. Chemicals. This part of GMO grain production actually bothers me more than the genetic splicing and insertion itself. We KNOW the chemicals applied to GMO grain crops are harmful. And though the companies who manufacture these chemicals (ironically, the same companies who manufacture our GMO food seeds (?!?!)) would like to tell us that they don’t stick around long enough to affect our bodies when we eat GMO foods, this is patently false, as proven by LOTS of recent studies – most notably those showing the levels of glyphosate (Roundup) showing up in American breastmilk (Google it – it’s real, it’s reliable, and the government is reviewing Roundup safety as a result). And yes, I absolutely realize that chemical application is not limited to GMO grain production. Non-GMO grains, as well as organic (sorry, folks, it’s true) grains may also get treated with dangerous chemicals. However, many GMO grains have been specifically developed to withstand an incredible amount of pesticide application. Trust me, while you may find non-GMO and organic products that possibly haven’t been sprayed, you can bet your bottom dollar that GMO products are LOADED with pesticides. Another part of GMO production and its relationship with chemicals has to deal with no-till agriculture – meaning that when a crop is planted, the soil is not tilled. There are several benefits to no-till that involve topsoil conservation and maintaining the health of our waterways. It’s also quicker and cheaper. No-till is a great thing, save for one thing – chemical application. In traditional agriculture, tilling kills the weeds growing on top of a field that is to be planted. In no-till, another means of killing those weeds must be employed; and to date, the only viable option is chemical application. No-till and GMO production don’t always have to go hand in hand, but in reality, they often do. After the initial spray, growing plants can then be sprayed again and again with Roundup to ensure no weeds grow while the crop is young and getting established.
#3. GMOs are eroding our creativity and connection with agriculture. Find an old time farmer and he will probably tell you about cover crops, companion planting, and all of his tricks to keeping weeds and bugs out of his crop fields. As we embrace GMO technology without a second thought, we are killing our creativity and our knowledge in the process. Who needs to talk to an old timer now? We have sprays for that. I realize that some folks view this as a win – “Our problems are solved!” – but what happens when the chemical solution to the problem is no longer a viable one and we no longer know any other way? A great example of this is Roundup resistance. Many weeds are now becoming resistant to Roundup and are either requiring even more enormous amounts of Roundup application, or a different poison altogether (which is why Dow is currently in the approval process of 2,4-D resistant gene technology – in case you aren’t aware, 2, 4-D is one of the components of Agent Orange).
#4. Betting the farm – literally – on new technology that’s in the process of being rejected. THIS one is the most important and the most concerning point to me. The agricultural community has been so quick to embrace this seed technology – 88% of all field corn is GMO and 94% of all soybeans are GMO – without thought for what may happen if the technology fails to be accepted. Acceptance by American consumers is definitely important – and we know that is failing. 95% of Americans want GMOs labeled. Many are even calling for a ban. Several states have pending legislation that would limit GMO production. Even MORE important and MORE concerning is global rejection of GMOs. Peru has already banned them altogether. 60-something other countries around the world have some kind of restriction on their import. The U.S. and Canada are the last holdouts for trying to avoid labeling GMOs (presumably because the companies who produce them have infiltrated our government to the highest levels – Hillary Clinton, Michael Taylor of the FDA, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and the list goes on foreverrrrr). The world is rejecting GMOs. If we can’t export our products, we are done for. Yet, agricultural producers are still screaming to defend these products. I can only surmise that a) fear of no longer knowing how to produce without them, and b) being unwilling to find a way to add value to their products are what’s driving that defense. MOST concerning, however, is that if GMOs fail – if GMOs are rejected – if GMOs are proven to NOT be a good technology – we have already begun the process of contaminating all of our seed for these crops. Even the certification for non-GMO is “containing X% or less of GMO material” – because the contamination is so rampant that purity is almost non-existent at this point. If GMO fails, every crop that we have started GMO production for – corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and even GRASS (YES, GRASS) – will fail. That’s an awfully big risk for us to be embracing. Farming has always come with risks. Calculated risks. GMO is a bad bet at this point.
(read the full article at Sweet Sustainability)
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