I’ve recently finished Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart-Cooking Mamas, by Mark Winne. What most caught my attention in this book was a fight that took place in Boulder, Colorado, several years ago (the book was published in 2010). Not a fistfight; more of a showdown between the industrial food system and the alternative (be it organic, grass raised, free range, humane, or simply slow as opposed to fast). Here’s the deal: Six farmers asked the county for permission to plant genetically modified sugar beets on publicly owned farmland.
They held a public hearing. Of 58 citizens who testified, 47 were adamantly opposed. They were particularly concerned about “seed drift,” where GMO crops contaminate non-GMO crops (they don’t have to be organic to be contaminated by GMOs). A big concern about seed drift is that GMO food is unwelcome in a lot of markets (the European Union and China would be significant examples), and non-GMO crops that get contaminated by seed drift are no longer non-GMO, and cannot be sold in many markets (and to make matters worse, the non-GMO farmer is open to being sued by Monsanto for “growing” their crops).
One of the farmers was already farming 1,300 acres on public land. Of that, 14% was sugar beets (conventional seed), but they accounted for 32% of his income. And the farmer said,
By removing Roundup Ready sugar beets you have essentially delivered the death blow to another independent farmer.
Say what? The citizens didn’t want to deliver a death blow to a farmer. They just didn’t want their public land planted with GMO crops. Public lands in particular shouldn’t contaminate other farmers. So what’s the big deal here? Just plant conventional crop like you have on the public land you’re already farming. That seemed rather obvious and the perfect solution.
Oh, a snag: The sugar beet farmers weren’t able to purchase conventional seed. Two years prior, 60% of the sugar beet seed on the market was GMO. At the time of their GMO sugar beet request, it was 95%.
Does that scare you? It scares the shit out of me. Farmers going out of business simply because they can’t purchase seeds that aren’t genetically modified? What kind of democracy is this?
Imagine if the entire world food supply was controlled by one or two persons. Or one or two companies. One of these companies would almost certainly be Cargill, practically in my back yard.
Oh, but who cares about farmers, anyway? Let’s talk about Cargill instead.
China has refused shipments of U.S. corn since November of last year because of GMOs (almost all U.S.-grown corn is GMO). This is a huge concern for Cargill, since China is the world’s fastest growing market for corn.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Cargill saw a 28% decline in earnings in the first quarter of the year, due primarily to the rejection of its GMO corn.
It would seem that the United States is pretty much the only country in the world that loves GMOs. Most developed countries have restrictions. (But then again, most developed countries have healthcare systems that cover pretty much everyone. I am thinking these two facts are not completely unrelated.)
However, if we want to trade with the rest of the world, we might want to produce the kind of products that they would like to buy. That makes sense, doesn’t it? If your trade partners don’t want GMOs, and most of your captive audience doesn’t want GMOs (52% think GMOs are unsafe while an additional 13% are unsure, according to an ABC News poll), you’d think that maybe the GMO winds are shifting. And not only because of seed drift.
And while I know little about the World Trade Organization, already I realize that wanting to please the potential customer is naive. There is no goodwill here. This is all about control. And Cargill has a lot of control. Including a lot of control in the World Trade Organization.
I have much to learn.