Monday, January 31, 2011

GM Contamination May Already Be Here To Stay

Genetically Modified (GM) could
be a contamination issue
for years to come

With news from Australia that an organic farmer is suing a neighbor because his fields were contaminated with genetically modified (GM) canola that the neighbor was growing, we have yet another in a long line of disputes involving GM crops.

Genetically Modified (GM) Foods - The Core Issues

The core of this issue lies with the reality that you can’t really control crop reproduction in open air fields. A GM crop growing in a field bordering a non-GM crop will no doubt cross pollinate. Since non-GM crops can be sold across the globe (whereas GM crops are not welcome in many countries), this cross contamination by a GM greatly reduces the value of the non-GM crop. In the Australian’s case, it renders the crop worthless since his business is based on delivering organic crops.

Monsanto, one maker of GM seed, has been known to sue farmers when plants from its seed are found growing in neighboring fields, even though the neighboring farmers claim they did not plant the seeds there. In one classic case, the company tried to force a Canadian farmer to pay it for damages, lost profits, a genetic use fee, and court costs when it discovered plants from its seed growing in his fields. According to the farmer’s Web site, he eventually won but not before plowing through his life savings. Monsanto tells a different story here.

Just last June the Supreme Court ruled on another GM product of Monsanto’s alfalfa. In this case the court struck down an earlier ban on the sale of the seed, but at the same time prohibited the sales of the seed until a review is completed by the USDA. That review is expected before spring 2011.

The damage to non-GM crops, though, may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Monsanto’s particular brand of GM crops. In a stroke of genius, the company is selling crop seeds that will grow into plants that are resistant to its own herbicide. Now the herbicide may be used more often and in greater quantities. A boon for Monsanto, but the science is still out on the long-term effects of this kind of farming practice.

Then there is also the little item involving the genetic adaptability of the weeds the herbicide is supposed to kill. Last May the NY Times reported on an abundance of weeds that are now, you guessed it, resistant to Monsanto’s herbicide. Farmers are having to use more herbicide. Waterhemp seedlings, for example, survived even after the herbicide dose was increased by 8 times the application on the label. Some farmers are resorting to pulling weeds by hand, tilling and plowing more frequently. Those last two operations use an abundance of fossil fuels thereby reducing the already marginal return-on-energy most farmers get using today’s agricultural practices.

In the end, it may become necessary for the world to decide if GM plants are nothing more than contamination of the lifeforms on the planet. If that were to become the consensus then the next question will become - how do we clean it up? But even now, that may no longer be possible.

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