Sunday, September 23, 2012

From Lab To Field, And On Your Knees

We don't write about food safety, security, policy, or the environment too often, the last time we wrote seriously about it was a piece on High Fructose Corn Syrup (Fundamentally Unsafe: High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) that I had imported from an older blog two years ago, way back before...well, a load of life changing stuff...

Despite food safety and security being the major factor in our most recent purchase (still need to put the ink on the paper though!) of a 40 acre homestead-farm where we plan to grow as much of our own food as we can, both plant and animal; there's just usually so much other stuff to write about, other stuff that inspires us on days when it's not our pain, or mental health, to be able to write about just one topic.

It's stories like Plowing Away The Prairie, At A Price that make us sad, upset, fearful for the future of the America, and the people who live in it; but it's not just those feelings, it's stories like Plowing Away The Praire that raise questions, draw intersecting lines, create a furrowed brow, and inspire today's blog entry. Questions like how do we feel about the federal government subsidizing crop insurance to farmers so they can be encouraged to grow GMO corn and/or soybeans in an environment that is not suited for in the first place, and making big payouts, like they will have to this year in the face of the horrible drought, and who is behind it; and with so much talk about government hand-ups and hand-outs, who gets to decide between the people who "deserve it" and the people who don't.

If you're not familiar with GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) [Seed] you probably should be. Genetically modified organisms are laboratory engineered seeds and plants (so far the FDA has not approved animal GMOs) created by splicing genes from other organism to "improve" things like shelf-life and pest-resistance. In the United States over 85% of the corn and 91% of the soybeans (1) grown are from GMO seed, with ownership of the seed by one giant corporation called Monsanto, who owns the patents to it, and that so far in 2012 has contributed 71% of it's companies election funding to the Republicans (29% to Democrats).(1)
"These days Faulstich is telling his story in Washington, D.C. This year or next, Congress is expected to take up a new farm bill that could determine the fate of his way of life and, perhaps, the Midwestern prairie." 
"If we need more corn and it's a level playing field, that's the way it is," he said. "But if there are incentives to make this happen - that's a disaster in the making [says Faulstich]" Plowing Away The Prairie, At A Price
It's hard to say what Washington would do with a farm bill, it's hard to say if the average American even cares, or understands the under-working of the government in the first place. It all depends on who dominates the House and Senate, but you can bet that big campaign funding by the likes of Monsanto can grease some very greedy palms (2).

Reading Plowing Away The Prairie paints with words an accurate and unfortunate picture of the environmental effects of tearing up the prairie for profit; and makes it obvious there are those less concerned about the future of the earth, and the devastating toll already visible and measurable, that are created by ripping it up and plowing it all under, in lei of profit.
"The 10,000-year-old native prairie that once stretched from Saskatchewan to the Gulf of Mexico has become one of the most threatened ecosystems on Earth -- more so even than the world's tropical rain forests, ecologists say. In Minnesota and elsewhere, only about 1 percent of the original prairie now lies untouched, and every year across the Great Plains millions more acres of grasslands are turned into corn, soybeans and other crops." Plowing Away The Prairie, At A Price
But it's not just about the environment, or the greasing of the wheel to make the rats run on it until we all die of cancer (3), it's also about another big company owning our government and livelihoods. We're not even mentioning the health issues surrounding GMO foods, foods which have been on the market since 1994, when the "The Fish Tomato" FLAVR SAVR [CGN-89564-2](4) tomato made it's debut, whose plant genetics were "modified by incorporating a synthetic antifreeze gene modeled from one isolated from the winter flounder, Pseudopluronectus americanus".(5)

No, the first issue is the danger of a single company owning the rights to massive amounts of seed, and the potential for them to own it all one day by pushing natural "heirloom", or heritage, varieties out of the market with force, which they have already started doing; you need only look at how much GMO seed is used in agricultural crops. If a single company owns all the corn and soybeans they can literally have the people at their knees, which is what they have already done in poor countries around the world. Take India, for example, where a GMO-related suicide epidemic has been perpetuated over the last 16 years.(6)

The claims that Monsanto makes about the yield of their seed, which is one of the more desirable reasons for signing on with their product, is likely debatable, and depends on environmental factors, like the right kind of weather, just for a start. It's also debatable how good the Roundup Ready® weed and insect-resistant seed actually works in relation to pests, specifically when it has created an evolution of newer stronger pests that are the resistance. Roundup®, an herbicide used on crops dates back as far as 1974, and hasn't done enough to keep the insects and other pests from evolving. They just keep mutating and getting stronger.

Used over years herbicides and pesticide create, and have created, bigger and stronger pests as insects and bugs adapt themselves through natural modification, the way nature intended - but at a rate much higher because "nature" now demands it(7). Survival of the fittest insect. Take the development of the Superworm in the corn belt of the Midwest of The United States(8) for example, which means Monsanto will now have to create, and sell to the Roundup Ready® seed buyer (because they are not allowed to use anything else), newer stronger chemicals for defence of your crops. It hardly seems worth it.

To break it down and illustrate the problem/issue even further; using a GMO patented seed is like buying a modified seedless watermelon. You can eat the watermelon, like you harvest a crop. But without seeds you can't reproduce the watermelon.
Or lets put it a different way.
You want a baby (A Corn Plant). A cute cuddly squirmy thing to raise and make your minion, but you are infertile (No Seeds). So every time you want to make a baby, you have to outsource to an adoption company (Monsanto); and each baby you adopt is also sterile (No Seeds) - so they will also have to adopt (from Monsanto) to have babies of their own (More Corn Plants). And the cycle continues.
It might be a rudimentary example. Either way, you are the slave to provider, and you have no freedom of your own, and it's not how nature intended it.

Image Source
When it comes to corn and soybean seed, not to mention all the other countless crops they are now owning, like alfalfa, canola, cotton, sorgum, soybeans, sugar beets and wheat(9), with the future crops of rice, papaya, eggplant, squash, peppers, potatoes and wheat set to be commercialized in the next few years(10); and oh, yeah, they bought Seminis this year, the world's largest developer, grower and marketer of vegetable seeds, which has been met with outrage...and very little media coverage.(11)

Back to the crime scene then.

When buy from Monsanto you sign away your rights to reproduce your food and the food for everybody else, forcing you to buy seeds from them every year; if your plants get sick, you can only buy medicine from them; If they inspect your field and find you are in breech of the agreement they can file a lawsuit against you, and they can even file expensive lawsuits(12), like in the case of Monsanto Canada Inc v Schmeiser(13) if even the seed is blown on your property from neighbouring fields, because they want their cut.

Plowing Away The Prairie, At A Price, was really good a read overall, simple, yet absolutely inspiring some might say...if you're an American who cares about food prices, food security, health, safety, freedom. If you are concerned about a beautiful country whose fruited plains are going to be government subsidized GMO corn and soy beans, and something. Even if means writing about it and helping people find out about it.
"History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
The point is, people aren't given the freedom of choice with their food; money and greed are destorying this country, and the 47% aren't the victims, we are all the victims. And it's killing us, it's killing the planet, it's another thing killing the hope. But by speaking up, you can help make changes, you can take responsibility for your life and environment...because, like one the authors from one of our favourite books says...
“That is the paradox of the epidemic: that in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first.”
~ Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Sources and Citation:

Plowing Away The Prairie, At A Price, Josephine Marcotty, Star Tribune, September 23, 2012

Genetically Engineered Crops, The Center For Food Safety, 2012

(1) Influence of Lobbying PAC data for Monsanto Company Summary, Center for Responsive Politics, September 2012,

(2) Congress OKs GMOs, Monsanto Makes Sure You Can Grow Them at Home, Krista Simmons,, June 22, 2012

(3)  Is Monsanto Evil? TYT Networks, September 22, 2012, Video

(4) The Case of the FLAVR SAVR Tomato, G. Bruening, J.M. Lyons, California Agriculture 54(4):6-7. DOI: 10.3733/ca.v054n04p6. July-August 2000

(5) Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact, James W Glosse, Information Systems For Biotechnology, 1991, PDF

(6) 'Bitter Seeds' Documentary Reveals Tragic Toll of GMOs in India, Claire Thompson, International Union of Conservation of Nature, August 16, 2012

(7) Approval of New Chemical-Resistant GMOs Likely to Prompt Pesticide Escalation, Jill Richardson, Center for Media and Democracy, August 28, 2012

(8) How Genetically Modified Corn Is Creating Super Worms, Aviva Shen, September 5, 2012

(9) Agricultural Seed Products, Monsanto, 2012

(10) GM Food Production Increasing, Rich Keller, AG Professional, September 12, 2012

(11) Occupy Monsanto Stops GMO Seed Distribution, Occupy Monsanto, The Sacramento Bee, September 12, 2012

(12) Small Farmers Fight Becomes Anti-Biotech Crusade, Paul Elias, Associated Press/USAToday, January 19, 2004

(13) Monsanto Canada Inc v Schmeiser, Wikipedia, and Canadian Federal Court

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