Thursday, January 31, 2013

What farmers were thinking

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes:

        Back in 1996, when genetically altered soybeans were introduced to farmers, they found buyers immediately. In my county, the introduction came at the annual "Crop and Soils Conference" where we were used to hearing how much soil was being lost through erosion due to plowing every year to plant corn, wheat, milo, soybeans--Missouri's big four.
        The presentation, by a woman that sold Pioneer seeds, was sponsored by the University Extension, and farmers learned that through genetic engineering they could kill all the weeds in the field with herbicide, and plant seeds that resisted the herbicide. The seeds would put up plants that were vigorous and made a lot of beans. Since the weeds were killed by herbicide, plowing would be minimized and erosion would disappear.
        I was at the first meeting and I remember farmers asking, "What about weeds becoming resistant to the herbicide (which was Roundup)" and the extension agents sitting mutely when the Pioneer seed lady answered, "We're working on that."
        The seeds that first year were cheap and the only guy that really lost out was the guy that owned the big seed-cleaning business in the county. He told me, "Margot. That first year, my seed-cleaning business went to zero."
        So, in one year, farmers stopped saving seeds and began buying patented genetically altered seeds from industry. They expected to get dead weeds, less erosion, less work and better yields.
        Today, they've got weeds that resist Roundup and the potential of seeds engineered to resist more potent herbicides. The herbicides being touted today--2,4-D and dicamba--create cancer and Parkinson's in humans.
        What a bad trade.

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