Sunday, May 1, 2011

Alarmist or Realist?

disclaimer: this is another GMO post.

2 things spawing this post:
-recently sharing a car with a gov't extension specialist talking about how difficult it is to convince conventional grain farmers to consider non-GMO soybeans, let alone organic.
-a new grain operation setting up and recieving some pressure from various sides to plant GMO's. 

I've written about GMO's before and you all know where I stand, but I've never felt so strongly about them as I do after having read "The Organic Manifesto" by Maria Rodale.  It is a straight forward book that I believe presents some very effective and truthful arguments as to the necessity of organics in todays world.  Now, I really hate conspiracy theorists and hyperbole, so I hope that you can read this and not roll your eyes or shake your head and wonder as to my sanity.  When Mark talks about GMO's he presents a very practical argument and looks and sounds the part of a typical farmer, organic or otherwise.  He is the face that convinces conventional farmers to at least consider planting non-GMOs.  Therefore, I get to vent the less quantifiable reasons on here instead of to those making the decisions on the ground, because if there's anything farmers hate, it's pie in the sky ideas with little evidence. 
With that, here's a few reasons to re-consider the value of genetically modified organisms in our food system.

GMO proponents continually come back to the 'higher yields' argument, which we've seen here on the Island is simply not true.  It all comes back to the soil, and if the soil isn't healthy it doesn't matter whether it's GMO or not, the yields will be down.
Another argument commonly issued is that GMO's require fewer pesticides, but studies have proven that pesticide use has actually increased since GMO's were introduced.  It turns out that since farmers know that the plant cannot be harmed by the Round Up, they apply even more, in an attempt to truly eradicate all weeds.   On another note, many weeds have begun to develop resistance to Round Up, so producers are having to use even stronger pesticides, more often.
Farmers really need more expenses, so it's convenient that GMO seeds are proprietary so that seeds cannot be saved from year to year.  It also helps that the same companies who own the right to the seeds also own the chemicals needed to spray them.  Dependency anyone? 
Don't even start on exporting markets, because outside of China, there are few.  The EU wants nothing to do with GMOs, so there's one good, pratical reason right there, not to grow it.  Should we not also perhaps consider the reasons those countries don't want them?

Monsanto is an easy company to pick on, so I will, but keep in mind, it's only one of many.  We all know they have profits that give them the ability to buy lobbying power like no one else (in 2008 they spent well over $8million on lobbying alone).  They can afford to put a lot of resources into research funding for universities who study the benefits of GMO's.  They can afford to fund lawyers who draft bills and laws that open the door to more questionale biotechnology in agriculture.  Former high-level employees 'somehow' have found themselves in the corner offices of the Food and Drug Administration as well as the Environmental Protection Agency in the US, the agency responsible for researching the impact of things like GMO's on our food system.  The reach of Monsanto is infinite and strong.  Money talks and they have no shortage.

Because the science world is flush with pro-GMO studies (funded by the GMO companies) and short on funding for legitimate research into GMO's, studies are hard come by, but they do exist.  It comes up again and again that GMO's are being linked to fertility problems, increased abortions and miscarriages.  One study referencing dairy cows is one practical example, but studies of lab mice fed a diet heavy in GMO's found that by the third generation of mice, they were unable to conceive.  Ok, ok this feels alarmist, but if we consider the fact that GMO's have been in our own food system for only 30 years and a generation is equivalent to 20-25 years, we are only entering the second generation in a GMO friendly world.  

This is where most people will turn this blog off because it's getting too out there and conspiracy oriented. And this is why Mark is the face of reason to those for whom it will really matter, but if I don't share my concerns I would failing myself.   
Finally, it doesn't matter whether you side with Monsanto or me on this one, but there is no denying that once GMOs have been introduced, they are not going away.  You can farm without GMO's for eternity, but once you plant them, that pristine soil you've spent your life building up will always have them.  You can't go back.  The genes can spread by a variety of means and the effects of that are as of yet, unknown.  Benign or not, the farmer is left to deal with the consequences. 

Enough doom and gloom.  It's another beautiful Sunday and I am excited by all the new beginnings that come with spring. 


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