By Paige Patterson
I am harvesting Sungold tomatoes by the fistfuls, popping almost as many in my mouth as I do it the colander I’m using to gather them. Such joy. Mouthfuls of pure sun. But as I bite down and explode them between my teeth I find myself full of worry. Not from my tomatoes, but from all research I’ve been doing to be able to speak intelligently about a lecture we are giving at Marders in October. We’ve invited Vandana Shiva, world renown-philosopher, ecofeminist, activist and author, to speak with us on seed freedom, seed and crop diversity and how to help farmers make the transition from fossil-fuel and chemical-based monocultures to biodiverse ecological systems nourished by the sun and the soil. So I’ve been doing a little research.
Now my Sungold tomatoes are hybrids, which means that they were created by using careful pollination crosses to create a series of desired characteristics, disease resistance, size, color, taste etc. and that these plants are created by man and thus if you plant their seeds, you will not get the same tomato, but one with a combination of its genes that may or may not be as good.
It is not an heirloom plant, as it has not been around long enough and heirloom plants have been around for at least 50 years whose seeds are stable enough that if you plant them the following year, you will get the same plant again. They are actually old hybrids, seeds that farmers thought were good tasting enough to want to save and share, and occasionally improve on by cross breeding.
But contrary to popular belief, my hybrid is not a GMO plant. A GMO plant is the result of genetic engineering, not cross breeding. GMO stands for “genetically modified organism” and is a process during which the plant’s DNA is altered in a way that cannot occur naturally from just cross breeding plants, and sometimes includes the insertion of genes from other species.
GMO plants are things like Roundup ready corn, corn that has a gene spliced into it that makes it resistant to the herbicide Roundup so that the field can be planted with this corn, have roundup dumped on it and the plant will survive. This is scary. Roundup (which contains glyphosate that has just been declared “probably carcinogenic to humans”) is not something we want drenching our food supplies or our fields. But unfortunately, last year, it’s said that 94 percent of soybeans and 89 percent of corn were herbicide resistant, crops that take up over half of all farmed lands in the US.
Of course, just like how overusing antibiotics has resulted in the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, farmers’ almost ubiquitous use of Roundup is believed to be leading to the creation of herbicide–resistant superweeds that are able to survive its use. This means that these farmers are having to use even stronger herbicides on the earth and it’s all starting to feel a little overwhelming.
Remember all those Monarch butterflies and their disappearing food sources? Roundup being sprayed willy-nilly on this GMO corn and Roundup-ready soybeans is one of the main problems. If you are regularly dumping herbicides on the land to such an extent that you kill every living thing except your genetically modified frankenfood, you are creating a problem. Why can’t we all see this? Why does this have to be so complicated? Why is it acceptable to live in a land where spraying the earth with carcinogens is not only acceptable, but is seen as progress.
Oh and let’s not forget that the farmers that are using these crops are not allowed to save part of their harvest and replant it the following year because these seeds are patented and trademarked and belong only to the companies that created them. There is no more swapping of successful plants between farmers, nor is there any genetic diversity, being grown out there on the land
Or the fact that if all the famers in the world are using the same seeds we are creating a monoculture that is beyond belief, not only losing great seeds, with great tastes, and great nutrition but with over reliance on a limited genetic pool, we’re also creating tremendous opportunities for global susceptibility to a single pest of disease outbreak. Thus the famous Irish potato famine. The problem with monoculture is a loss of diversity, and a loss of diversity creates a vacuum. And a vacuum is always going to be filled, whether with a weed, a disease, or a pest. There will always be issues with agriculture, especially when we have so many mouths to feed, but relying on a monoculture of genetically modified foodstuffs seems to be taking us the wrong way.
Oh did I mention that by not rotating crops we are also exhausting the soil of the world so that we have to keep dumping artificially created, man made chemical fertilizers on it — fertilizers that sometimes create more problems in their production and use then they benefit the plant? And that following this method of creating and providing people food, is an almost guaranteed way to kill our planet, not a sustainable agricultural method as put forward by its promoters?
As I read more and more over the past couple of weeks, I actually found a lot of the issues to be not only overwhelming, but also incredibly political. There were lots of people trying to simplify things, and others denying scientific observations, and yet others basing opinions on what appeared to be limited scientific research. It was incredibly frustrating and confusing, so as I ate my Sungolds one by one, I decided the best way to get other people involved in this conversation, was to share my newly acquired knowledge. I’m really looking forward to Vandana’s talk and I hope you will get excited about this important discussion about GMOs, the future of our food system and how we can all fight for the freedom of our food and planet and come listen with me.
For more information and reservations call Marders at 631-537-3700.
Paige Patterson is still stunned that it takes 1770 gallons of water to grow 1lb of beef.