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This is an article that appeared in the 7 August 2014 edition of this paper. A powerful editorial that exposes the danger corporate greed poses when it is married with politics.
GMOs: Not okay for ducks but good enough for kids?
By: Gary Cunard
Let’s start this week with a conundrum which my dictionary defines as a confusing and difficult problem or question.
Better, let’s use the second definition, “a question asked for amusement.”
Except in this case, amusement isn't the word we’re looking for since it involves our environment and what we feed ourselves, our kids and our grand-kids.
You may have read recently that the U.S. government is creating a safe place for bees on national wildlife refuges by phasing out the use of genetically modified crops and an agricultural pesticide implicated in the mass die-off of pollinators.
That’s fantastic news, although it’s likely to be only partially effective.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages about 150 million acres across the country and by January, 2016, will forbid the use of neonicotinoids, nerve poisons that a number of scientific studies have shown are harmful to bees, birds, mammals and fish.
Neonicotinoids, also called neonics, can be sprayed on crops, but most often seeds are coated with the pesticide so that the poison spreads throughout every part of the plant as it grows, including the pollen and nectar that pollinators like bees and butterflies eat.
The ban, however, goes further as it prohibits the use of genetically modified seeds to grow crops to feed wildlife.
Ah, now there is the conundrum!
We’re not going to grow feed crops for ducks, geese, bears, deer and a host of other species from GMO seeds — BUT our very own government says it’s fine to feed this stuff to ourselves and our kids!
In fact, our very own U.S. Congressman, G.K. Butterfield, is attempting to sell his colleagues in Washington on a bill that would make it illegal to even list that a food product contains GMOs on its label.
Not good enough for ducks. Fine for our kids.
Gee, G.K., how are we supposed to reconcile this contradiction?
GMOs have not been linked directly to the bee die-off. But the dominance of GMO crops has led to the widespread use of pesticides like neonicotinoids and industrial farming practices that biologists believe are harming other pollinators, such as the monarch butterfly.
In fact, Home Depot — which has become a major retailer of plants used in home gardens and landscaping — has established a new policy that it will not sell plants which contain these poisons.
In other words, the bugs in our garden are likely to be eating safer food than we may be serving to our children.
The conundrum goes on and on.
Of course, the issue all boils down to money, money, money.
The GMO industry, led by chemical giant Monsanto and others, is lobbying hard to stop the labeling of foods containing GMO products and is spending millions convincing us — and especially lawmakers — that this stuff is safe.
It’s also profitable. Very, very profitable. Perhaps even more profitable than DDT was before Rachel Carson dropped the hammer on that bird-killing chemical in her 1962 classic Silent Spring.
GMO crops are profitable on multiple levels.
First, the seeds are much more expensive to begin with and the chemical companies contend they are worth the price because they are manually engineered to ward off some insects and to be resistant to herbicides which can be oversprayed easily to control weeds and grasses.
Second, the seeds are patented. A farmer is required to buy new seeds each year. Indeed, even planting a seed from a previous year’s crop is a violation of federal law and the chemical companies haven’t been shy about enforcing that regulation. In other words, you cannot save seeds from one year to replant the following year without risking criminal charges.
Third, nature is quite adaptive and begins adapting almost immediately to the challenges of GMOs. Weeds and insects evolve, becoming more and more resistant to the herbicides and insecticides — and already “super weeds” that are resistant to herbicides are emerging.
Of course, this is great news for the chemical companies. They can sell more Roundup and insecticides, boosting their profits even more.
So, what’s the problem? Several, actually, and there is much information on the Web that will provide you with more perspective than this one column.
But here are a few of the concerns.
First, as these GMO crops become more pervasive, we’re beginning to see various “heritage” varieties disappear. Simple selective breeding in pre-GMO days started this process with tomatoes. Selective breeding created those bright red, perfect globe-shaped tomatoes you see in the grocery store — the ones which taste worse than cardboard!
Those tomatoes were bred to look pretty, ripen after being picked green and withstand shipping. Taste was never a concern — and it’s obvious.
Sometime, compare the taste of one of these hybrids with a true heritage tomato that our grandparents enjoyed — Mortgage Lifter, German Johnson, German Pink, Arkansas Traveler or Brandywine — and you’ll instantly understand why we don’t want to lose the older varieties of seeds.
There is a practical reason, too. Sometimes disease can wipe out, or nearly wipe out, one genetic variety while others survive.
We dare not put all our genetic eggs in one basket.
Also, the higher prices and ban on seed saving/replanting puts a large economic burden on small and subsistence farmers worldwide — and a crop failure can wipe them out financially. Horror stories are emerging from India and Pakistan right now about how this is playing out on the world stage.
Troubling, too, is that genetic material, once released into nature, cannot be controlled. One farmer may think he is growing a heritage variety and taking great steps to protect his crop, but if pollen from a genetically-modified crop wafts into his field, the damage is irreversible! Already, more than 80 percent of the soybeans and corn grown in the U.S. in 2013 came from genetically engineered crops, according to the Department of Agriculture. About 75 percent of the foods Americans eat contain GMOs in some form.
Finally, do we really need to continually “bathe” this limited old ball of dirt we call earth with ever-stronger, man-made chemicals that pollute the soil, the water and linger in the plants we call food? And should we be using these systemic insecticides — especially neonicotinoids — that indiscriminately kill bees and butterflies? After all, we’re only beginning to understand their full effects on the natural environment.
Agriculture must be sustainable — and we need to know what we’re eating.
In fact, it’s our right to know what we’re eating — and both Butterfield and Monsanto must be made to understand that simple fact.
Do your own research. Then make sure the food we’re serving to our children is at least as safe and pure as that which we’re planting for those flocks of visiting Canada geese and mallards.
This is the world we are speeding toward as we constantly check our cell phones for the latest post or tune into the tube where what passes for “news” is mindless babble about a desk made of sand!
We’d better pull our heads out of that sand soon — or it’s going to be too late.
Enjoy your weekend while pondering the conundrum of protecting wildlife diets while feeding our kids genetically modified, insecticide-laden junk without even knowing it!
Most of us pay little attention to behind the scenes lobbying of Congress. The result, by the time everything is said and done; we are left asking, now had did that happen?
America we better start paying attention to this.
Elections, do they even matter anymore? Well they do, that is if true patriots take up the challenge, and then people vote for them.
There is a young man in North Carolina named Arthur Rich running for the United States Congress in the 1st District. He is a farmer, he has been to college and has a degree, he is a very bright. To me he represents the very best of what our country has to offer.
You may not have heard his name before. It is names like his that we need to hear. I recently met him and asked, so why are you running for Congress? His reply, "Our country is in trouble".
Arthur Rich is a small family farmer that understands playing games with the worlds food supply for corporate profits is powerfully dangerous.
Rich is challenging North Carolina incumbent Democratic Congressman B. K. Butterworth in November. Butterworth is a seasoned politician with a virtual financial machine fueling his campaign. Money flowing in from outside of North Carolina. One has to wonder little why his legislative interest parallel chemical juggernaut Monsanto's.
"In fact our very own U.S. Congressman, G.K. Butterfield, is attempting to sell his colleagues in Washington on a bill that would make it illegal to even list that a food product contains GMOs on its label."
The small family farmer is disappearing in America. With it is going the heritage and culture that built our country. It reminds me of the words in county singer Alan Jackson's song, "The Little Man".
There are small family farmers all across our country struggling. May be you know one of them, maybe it is you, or your grandparents.
I feel we need to support Arthur Rich and trust you will as well. He is beholding to no one, and is taking on this challenge for the reasons everyone that seeks office should.
The national and state Democratic machine and special interest are behind Butterworth.
It takes money to run a campaign, please do what you can to support Arthur Rich. "Take a Stand for the Little Man".