Who Is Making Our Farming Choices?

need to knowMany farmers in Maryland and across the country are using genetically modified organisms—also know as GMOs.  Most of the corn and soybeans, growth hormones and vaccines sold by Monsanto, Elanco, Syngenta, Dow, Dupont, Bayer and BASF are produced with gene altering biotechnology.

This technology allows the creation of life forms that would never occur in nature because genes from one species are being transferred into a totally different species.  In addition, these new life forms are patented so farmers cannot legally save and reproduce them.

In the mid-1990’s the promise from the bio-tech companies was that these novel products would help cows produce more milk, control or eliminate weeds, repel insects and diseases, and create heat and drought tolerance.

The idea was that us farmers would make more money, our yields would go up, our pesticide use would go down (good for sustaining the environment), and we would be on our way to ending world hunger.  Sounded pretty good.  So how do these promises stack up after 20 years?

Well, I do not know if you are feeling any richer, but most farmers I know have not noticed the difference.  On the other hand, the bio-tech companies have done pretty well for themselves, and they had enough money to buy up most of the small regional seed companies.  Genetically engineered seeds are more expensive, and now it is hard to even find locally adapted non-GMO seeds.  Interestingly, some mid-West farmers are returning to older corn varieties because they feel they are losing yield and profits with the bio-tech seeds.

Dairy farmers found cows treated with rBST hormone get more udder infections.  Most dairies have abandoned rBST, and consumers welcomed that change.  We ignored the predictions from some university weed scientists, and our fields are now plagued with about two dozen superweeds that can’t be killed by RoundUp.

But don’t worry, the bio-tech companies are trying to license new seed that resists other stronger herbicides such as 2,4D.  Without the benefit of sophisticated technology, nature’s weeds began to out smart bio-tech in a mere half a dozen years.

And pesticide use has not gone down.  And insects? You guessed it, they are attacking the Bt crops that are supposed to repel them. Drought and heat resistance, well they are still working on that one.  And world hunger?  Don’t ask.

If bio-tech were a “silver bullet,” we would all know it by now.  Instead, consumers across the nation are demanding GMO labeling laws.  They want to know what they are eating.  They want a choice.  Just as farmers want a choice to buy non-GMO seeds and vaccines.

Our rights as farmers and consumers to know and chose is in danger of being lost.  As federal Judge Jeffrey White warned in a recent case involving RoundUp ready sugar beets, genetic engineering could mean the “potential elimination of farmer’s choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer’s choice to eat non-genetically engineered food.”

Who is making the choice of how you farm or what you eat?  If you want the right to choose, support bills HB1191/SB0778 now in the Maryland legislature that would require GMO labeling for produce and most packaged food.

Once consumers know what they’re eating, their choices will expand and so will ours.  Get involved, go to NeedToKnowMaryland.org.

Nick Maravell,
organic farmer, Montgomery and Frederick Counties, MD
member, National Organic Standards Board

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