Thursday, April 22, 2010

TV actually educated my household last night

About two thirds of the way through the broadcast of "Food, Inc." on PBS' POV last night I became angry. That's because the documentary came to a pivotal area which I understand deeply. It centered around Monsanto and how they not only control the chemicals farmers use but also now control approximately 90% of the seeds farmers use to grow the very crops we eat.
The story, as it goes, tells viewers that it all began just over a decade ago when Monsanto introduced RoundUp-ready Soybean seed. In short, the very chemical that homeowners use to kill grass and weeds growing through the cracks in their sidewalks could now be used by soybean growers to kill every weed in their fields while leaving the soybeans untouched. I remember when these first came in to being. My dad, miser that he is, refused to buy the RoundUp-ready soybeans because they were approximately three times the cost of traditional seed. And he had it even better as he planted public varieties which, based on which variety yielded best, he would save enough seed for the next year's crop to have cleaned and bagged. It's entirely legal and the vendor where he purchased the seed actually did cleaning and bagging for farmers as well.

But then it began changing. The public varieties began to dwindle in availability and the cost of RoundUp came down as did the RoundUp-ready soybean seed prices. Then Monsanto bred the RoundUp-ready gene in to corn and soon the majority of corn varieties from virtually all seed companies were ready for farmers to soak their farm fields with RoundUp. This near-monopoly made Monsanto even richer - and greedier.

Now, with that dominance of the RoundUp-ready gene in most of the country's soybean crop, farmers are virtually unable to save seed for the next year's needs. Monsanto has reached almost a Gestapo-level of control in their ability to demand farmer's records and test the seeds they are saving. Even a trace of that gene in the seeds you are saving will likely land that farmer on the receiving end of a hefty lawsuit. And it hurts only true farmers. The type of farmers who don't farm thousands of acres. The type of farmers who don't have the shiniest or newest machinery. The type of farmers who aren't pawns owned by huge banks or other lenders. These are the farmers who truly care about the land they farm but with the almost overnight dominance of one company - Monsanto - they are even more of an endangered species.

Seeing "Food, Inc." made me sad that for lack of choices and in his search for a profit on increasingly slim margins that my dad has had to turn to a dependence on everything Monsanto. What happens when Monsanto makes a mistake in their gene splicing? What happens when some disturbing side effect of consuming food made from RoundUp-ready corn or soybeans is disvcovered? What happens when the weeds become resistant (as they tend to do after 5-10 years of exposure) to repeated RoundUp applications? The eventual lesson is to not fuck with Mother Nature. She doesn't even bother counting to three, she just puts the smack down and we're at her mercy.

But before the possible foodpocalypse, check out the photos fo Minnesota at MinnPics! It's the one decision today that you won't regret.

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