By Dr. Mercola
Corn and soy—much of which are genetically engineered—are rapidly overtaking native grasslands in a number of US states. This is a trend that may have a not-so-insignificant impact on our environment and subsequently, our ability to secure our food supply long-term.
As discussed in a recent Mother Jones article,1 this conversion of grasslands to crop fields is the exact opposite of what might be in our best interest.
“...we should push Midwestern farmers to switch a chunk of their corn land into pasture for cows,” the featured article states.
“The idea came from a paper2 by University of Tennessee and Bard College researchers, who calculated that such a move could suck up massive amounts of carbon in soil—enough to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 36 percent.
In addition to the CO2 reductions, you'd also get a bunch of high-quality, grass-fed beef... Turns out the Midwest are doing just the opposite.”
Federal Policy Worsens Environmental Concerns
According to a recently published paper3 by South Dakota State University researchers, grasslands in the Western corn belt, which includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska, is being lost at a rate "comparable to deforestation rates in Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia."
Between 2006 and 2011, nearly 2 million acres of friendly native grasses have been lost to corn and soy—two of the staples in processed foods that are driving chronic disease rates in an ever steepening upward incline. The same thing is happening in South America, where native forests are leveled in order to plant soy.
The researchers claim the land being converted into corn and soy fields is actually much better suited for grazing than crop agriculture, as it is “characterized by high erosion risk and vulnerability to drought." So why would farmers opt to use such risky land for their crops?
According to the featured article:
“Simple: Federal policy has made it a high-reward, tiny-risk proposition. Prices for corn and soy doubled in real terms between 2006 and 2011, the authors note, driven up by federal corn-ethanol mandates and relentless Wall Street speculation.
Then there's federally subsidized crop insurance, the authors add. When farmers manage to tease a decent crop out of their marginal land, they're rewarded with high prices for their crop. But if the crop fails, subsidized insurance guarantees a decent return.
Essentially, federal farm policy, through the ethanol mandate and the insurance program, is underwriting the expansion of corn and soy agriculture at precisely the time it should be shrinking.”
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released a report titled: "Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States." According to the report, our current agricultural system, which is dominated by corn and soy, is unsustainable in the long term. Should temperatures rise as predicted, the US could expect to see significant declines in yields.
Unfortunately, the USDA failed to analyze how reliance on monoculture might heighten our vulnerability to devastating crop loss. As a general rule though, the more crop diversity you have, the greater your food security, as different crops are affected differently. Our dependence on two primary crops is a recipe for disaster.
Monoculture—A Tremendous Threat to Global Food Security
The "faster, bigger, cheaper" approach to food is slowly draining dry our planet's resources and compromising your health. The Earth's soil is depleting at more than 13 percent the rate it can be replaced, and we’ve already lost 75 percent of the world's crop varieties over the last century.
In the words of Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and a number of other bestsellers: "Mother Nature destroys monocultures." What is a monoculture? Monoculture (or monocropping) is defined as the high-yield agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, in the absence of rotation through other crops. Corn, soybeans, wheat, and to some degree rice, are the most common crops grown with monocropping techniques. In fact, corn, wheat and rice now account for 60 percent of human caloric intake, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.4 According to an article on GreenFudge.org, monoculture is detrimental to the environment for a number of reasons, including the following:
- It damages soil ecology by depleting and reducing the diversity of soil nutrients
- It creates an unbuffered niche for parasitic species to take over, making crops more vulnerable to opportunistic pathogens that can quickly wipe out an entire crop
- It increases dependency on chemical pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics and genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
- It increases reliance on expensive specialized farm equipment and machinery that require heavy use of fossil fuels
- It destroys biodiversity
By contrast, polyculture (the traditional rotation of crops and livestock) better serves both land and people. Polyculture evolved to meet the complete nutritional needs of a local community. Polyculture, when done mindfully, automatically replenishes what is taken out, which makes it sustainable with minimal effort. Unfortunately, government subsidies and fervent lobbying to favor patented seeds drive the monoculture train; the goal of which is to maximize profits as quickly and for as long as possible... At stake is our entire food supply, not to mention farmers who don’t want to use patented seed.
Monsanto: Why We Sue Farmers Who Save Seeds
In a recent article in CropLife,5 Monsanto “provides the ‘justification’ they use to explain why they are forced to protect their innovation.”
“Patents are necessary to ensure that Monsanto is paid for its products and all the investments it puts into developing products. This is one of the basic reasons for patents. A more important reason is to help foster innovation. Without the protection of patents there would be little incentive for privately-owned companies to pursue and re-invest in innovation. Monsanto invests more than $2.6 million per day in research and development that ultimately benefits farmers and consumers. Without the protection of patents, this would not be possible,” the article reads.
Contrary to the “law of nature,” when you purchase patented seed, such as those sold by Monsanto, you have to sign an agreement confirming you will not save and replant seeds produced from the seed you buy. This means you have to repurchase new seed from them each season, opposed to the ancient practice of saving seed from one season’s harvest to plant the next. However, patented crops don’t know they’re not supposed to spread like natural ones... Farms can easily become contaminated by wind- or insect-carried pollen from GE fields, thereby opening farmers up to patent infringement lawsuits.
Monsanto has aggressively waged war against farmers whose only crime was to grow crops out in the open... According to a report6 by the Center for Food Safety (CFS), Monsanto had, as of December 2012, filed 142 patent infringement lawsuits against 410 farmers and 56 small businesses in more than 27 states. All in all, Monsanto has been awarded a staggering $23 million from their mafia tactics so far.7
According to Monsanto, only nine cases have gone through full trial, and in each of those cases, the jury or court decided in Monsanto's favor. I’m sure it helps to have some of the most high-paid legal firms in the country representing them, and also to have insiders in the halls of justice... Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas,8 appointed to the Supreme Court in 1991, is in fact a former Monsanto attorney. And he has yet to rule against his former employer.
Monsanto vs. Bowman
Not all cases are related to contamination however. On February 19, the US Supreme Court began hearing the appeal of 75-year old Indiana soybean farmer Vernon Bowman, in which he disputes Monsanto's claim that his farm used the patented seeds without authorization. The central issue in this case is the extent that a patent holder can control its use through multiple generations of seed.9 According to a recent press release:10
“Farmer Bowman legally purchased seeds at a grain elevator, which bought them from farmers who had, with Monsanto's authorization, used the genetically modified Monsanto seeds to grow their soybean crops. Monsanto claims that Mr. Bowman infringed its patents on herbicide-resistant plants and seeds by using the grain elevator seeds to grow his soybean crops. Mr. Bowman asserts that Monsanto's sales of the original seeds to authorized purchasers exhausted Monsanto's patent rights and therefore Monsanto cannot enforce its patents against second-generation and later seeds that resulted from planting the original seeds.”
So far, none of the Justices have been impressed with Bowman’s appeal. In fact, just seconds into Bowman’s attorney’s opening arguments, Chief Justice Roberts interrupted him by asking “why anyone would ever patent anything if Bowman were to prevail?” And just moments after that, Justice Breyer openly stated that “Bowman had infringed” on Monsanto’s patent, as if the case was already decided. In a summary of the case, patent attorney and founder of IPWatchdog, Gene Quinn, writes:11
“Justice Breyer, harkening back to the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, said: 'There are three generations of seeds. Maybe three generations of seeds is enough.' Justice Breyer acknowledged that it was a bad joke. Certainly a politically incorrect joke. The 'joke' referred to Holmes’ 1927 decision in Buck v. Bell,12 which was a case of forced sterilization. Holmes concluded in that case: 'Three generations of imbeciles are enough.'”
Indeed, making light of the government’s right to sterilize mentally handicapped people is not just a bad joke, it’s a sick one when you consider that the case in question (Buck vs Bell) basically concluded that it’s okay for the federal government to sterilize whomever they want—primarily those they consider 'imbeciles.' In Buck vs Bell, Holmes made the case that so long as government can force vaccination, it can force sterilization. If they can force medical procedures on your body, what rights do you really have? Now they are establishing that corporations have a right to patent not just one life, but the future generations as well
“We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.
The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes... Three generations of imbeciles are enough.
But, it is said, however it might be if this reasoning were applied generally, it fails when it is confined to the small number who are in the institutions named and is not applied to the multitudes outside. It is the usual last resort of constitutional arguments to point out shortcomings of this sort. But the answer is that the law does all that is needed when it does all that it can, indicates a policy, applies it to all within the lines, and seeks to bring within the lines all similarly situated so far and so fast as its means allow. Of course so far as the operations enable those who otherwise must be kept confined to be returned to the world, and thus open the asylum to others, the equality aimed at will be more nearly reached.”
Jokes aside about government’s rights to do with life as it pleases, the Court appears sold on protecting patent rights for seeds through multiple generations. The judges' decision will come by the end of June 2013. My guess is the Supreme Court only took this case to clearly protect the future of genetic engineering, and the rights to their products and of future generations. Justice Breyer and Justice Holmes appear to have a lot in common, and Americans can expect another moral injustice to our laws.
Keep Fighting for Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods
While California Prop. 37 failed to pass last November, by a very narrow margin, the fight for GMO labeling is far from over. The field-of-play has now moved to the state of Washington, where the people's initiative 522, "The People's Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act," will require food sold in retail outlets to be labeled if it contains genetically engineered ingredients. As stated on LabelitWA.org:
"Calorie and nutritional information were not always required on food labels. But since 1990 it has been required and most consumers use this information every day. Country-of-origin labeling wasn't required until 2002. The trans fat content of foods didn't have to be labeled until 2006. Now, all of these labeling requirements are accepted as important for consumers. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also says we must know with labeling if our orange juice is from fresh oranges or frozen concentrate.
Doesn't it make sense that genetically engineered foods containing experimental viral, bacterial, insect, plant or animal genes should be labeled, too? Genetically engineered foods do not have to be tested for safety before entering the market. No long-term human feeding studies have been done. The research we have is raising serious questions about the impact to human health and the environment.
I-522 provides the transparency people deserve. I-522 will not raise costs to consumers or food producers. It simply would add more information to food labels, which manufacturers change routinely anyway, all the time. I-522 does not impose any significant cost on our state. It does not require the state to conduct label surveillance, or to initiate or pursue enforcement. The state may choose to do so, as a policy choice, but I-522 was written to avoid raising costs to the state or consumers."
Remember, as with CA Prop. 37, they need support of people like YOU to succeed. Prop. 37 failed with a very narrow margin simply because we didn't have the funds to counter the massive ad campaigns created by the No on 37 camp, led by Monsanto and other major food companies. Let's not allow Monsanto and its allies to confuse and mislead the people of Washington and Vermont as they did in California. So please, I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can, regardless of what state you live in.
- No matter where you live in the United States, please donate money to these labeling efforts through the Organic Consumers Fund.
- If you live in Washington State, please sign the I-522 petition. You can also volunteer to help gather signatures across the state.
- For timely updates on issues relating to these and other labeling initiatives, please join the Organic Consumers Association on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.
- Talk to organic producers and stores and ask them to actively support the Washington initiative.