RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Behold the Monsanto Rider

If Americans had memories longer than a camera flash, the blogosphere, the punditry, the TV newscasters and all the Faux News outlets would be spouting outrage at the passage of the Continuing Resolution with its Monsanto Protection Act with its potential to infringe on the civil liberties of family farmers. This act, sponsored by Missouri’s Sen. Roy Blunt (R), will make it possible for Monsanto and any other biotech companies to plant genetically-altered seeds, possibly carrying genes poisonous to humans, that have not been approved by FDA.

Some argue that the resolution only lasts for six months, but that’s plenty of time for the biotech companies. They’ll plant in April and harvest in October, business as usual, and even if the next CR, which continues funding for federal agencies until the appropriations bill is approved, is renewed without the Monsanto-favoring clauses, they’ll have all the unapproved seeds that they need to argue that they are essential. My bet is that they’ll be concentrating on 2,4-D resistant crops. These would go in the ground, be sprayed with 2,4-D and pop up green and happy to grow. 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange, has been associated with cancers and Parkinson’s Disease so there is ample reason for USDA or FDA to disapprove them.

But the CR clause means that approval isn’t necessary. When these seeds are in the ground, cross-pollination is a possibility. So, let’s say an average family farmer has planted approved Roundup-Ready corn next to his neighbor with a contract to raise seed for Monsanto. If there is cross-pollination, the average guy could be harvesting an unapproved crop and be liable for damages even though he didn’t do anything.

And, worse for the average consumer is that fact that after harvest, with their bins full of the potentially killer seeds, the companies will be able to whine that they need approval … now … or all that value will be wasted. It’s a reminder of the way that GMO alfalfa was approved despite 200,000 objections from citizens in 2011.

USDA director Tom Vilsack was doubtful about the approval. He was probably just getting wind of the weed problems here in the heartland, where an estimated half the land is infected by weeds that cannot be killed by Roundup. The resistance those weeds show is due to continued spraying. Did they develop resistance because survivor weeds had reproduced or because some of the genes had “jumped” from GMO plants to weeds? Nobody seems to know. But, today, cotton farmers have to hand-weed their crops in the south and we saw marginal soybean fields in Missouri abandoned and plowed under.

And, when the biotech seeds make a crop, farmers are disappointed to learn that the yields aren’t as good as they were promised. In fact, you have to wonder if there’s any gain at all, considering how close together the plants are planted nowadays compared to years when high school kids “walked the rows” to pull weeds, the summer job they loved to hate (and, yes, it probably kept some of the less ambitious students in school).

Alfalfa is a perfect crop, growing dense and close to the ground, no need to spray it at all. But it does need to be replanted every few years, and the seed companies can manipulate supplies so that there are no non-GMO seeds available. Vilsack, an Iowan, knew that approving yet another Roundup-Ready crop, this one for alfalfa, meant exposing another ecosystem to genetically altered weeds. He wrote, thinking of organic farmers, a new export market for the US, that cross-pollination poses “a significant concern for farmers who produce for non-GE markets at home and abroad.”

And here’s the kicker: The approval was granted not because the doubts had been settled but because an ag industry company had a bunch of the seed in a warehouse and claimed they were going to lose money without the approval. Land O’ Lakes, now part of Purina, had raised GMO alfalfa and harvested unapproved seed for 3 years. A federal judge had ordered them to put it in a warehouse rather than use it, since it was an illegal crop. But Land O’ Lakes was determined. In the words of Mark McCaslin of Forage Genetics:

So based on USDA’s estimate of a two-year turnaround on an EIS, rather than pay our seed growers to take out those Roundup-ready acres, we left those in. We honored those contracts. And we harvested that seed that we had paid the growers for. So that seed that was produced in 2007, 2008, 2009, according to Judge Breyer’s ruling, is in storage. It has been in storage since that time. So the owners of that seed are the 350,000 farmer members of Land O’ Lakes.

And with that statement, Kathleen Merrigan granted the approval over the objections of all the objectors that had written in.

Well, folks, with the Continuing Resolution on the books, the fix is in. Again. And it’s time to speak out. Again. And to speak and object until Washington finally, finally, listens to the people instead of the corporations.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. She blogs at Email:

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2013

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