Archives for posts with tag: GMO foods

Killing Fields

A.V. Walters

The view out our window.

The view out our window.

We knew. We’d even talked about it. Our landlady rents the acreage around her house to a local dairy farmer. He grows corn to feed his cows. We stand at the edge of the lawn, where our clothesline is, and we look. There are no weeds in this cornfield. The farmer does not practice no-till planting. On a windy day, the sandy soil catches, and the air fills with an ominous dustbowl specter. Worse, he plants corn, year in, year out, without any crop rotation, depleting the soil of nitrogen and other nutrients. Why should he care? It’s not his land. Some people actually like the tidy lines of weed-free corn in formation. I find it sinister.

You see, I know that nature abhors a vacuum. Weed-free is unnatural. It means that her fields are sprayed with Round-Up. I live within spitting distance (literally) of GMO corn. Worse yet, the lower part of our property is downwind of it. It’s a little funny; for years I’ve been protesting and writing about the dangers of GMO and its impact on the environment, and now, I have a front row seat.

Yesterday morning was as still as death—unusual in our normally wind-whipped world. For that, I’m thankful. I’d gone out to the compost and heard, and then saw, a tractor headed up the road in our direction. I had a bad feeling. I sprinted back inside, gathering up a loose cat along the way, and closed the windows. Sure enough, it was the farmer coming to spray the field. I stayed in most of the day, canceled my plans to do laundry, and kept the cats inside—feeling a little trapped. But, my little garden is out there, on the side facing the field. If that Round-up went airborne, it’ll be dead within days

I know that this is the norm in agricultural communities. As a kid, I remember they’d spray the fields right by us, even as we walked to school. Even now, nobody thinks twice about it—it’s a way of life. Yet, there are studies galore showing the neurological impact of pesticides and herbicides on those living within a mile of sprayed crops. A new one came out this week showing the correlation (not causation) between the increased incidence of autism in the children of women so exposed. I have a friend who has Parkinson’s—the legacy of her childhood exposure to pesticides in California’s Central Valley. It’s not just her saying it—the medical studies bear her out. In my world-view, chemicals have become the problem in farming, not the solution.

My landlady thinks that my property—vacant for twenty-five years, overgrown and wild—is an eyesore. She was glad I’d finally appeared, thinking I would whip things into shape. She thinks that any insect or weed on her property must have come from the undisciplined wilds, of mine. We were at a function together when she informed me that she’d told her farmer how much I’d love to have him grow corn on my bottomland.

I recoiled in horror. “You said what?

“You know, get rid of all that scrubby pine and weeds—he pays well. We have good soil here.”

We are worlds apart. There are times when one should hold one’s tongue. Unfortunately, when it comes to neighborly relations, I forget about those times.

“Think again. I wouldn’t let that man set foot on my property.”

She looked like I’d slapped her. “He’s a good farmer—and what’s wrong with corn?”

So, I let her know what’s wrong with corn, at length—especially with the way it’s grown on her property. I’m afraid (but not totally regretful) that I even said that she stands by while he’s killing her soil. She looked injured. Well, she only knows what she knows. She grew up on a farm and better living through chemistry is deeply ingrained in her limited, world-view.

What will we say to the next generations? Maybe (just maybe) those of my landlady’s generation have an excuse. They just did what everyone else did, what the Agriculture People told them. My generation started out knowing better. We started out with Silent Spring and a glimpse of the damage done by “modern life.” Where did we go with it? From fertilizers, to organophosphates, to GMO/ Glyphosate, to neonicitinoids. How will we explain a world of dead soils and contaminated groundwater? How will we justify the loss of the bees? And this is just farming I’m talking about.

For much of my adult life, I grieved that I was unable to have children. I’m at peace with it, now—maybe it’s even a little bit of a relief. I have always tried to do my part—to garden within the rhythms of nature, to avoid products that do damage to the environment and to limit my participation in our throw-away culture. I look around now and realize that taking personal responsibility isn’t enough. We all need to do more, to tip the scales back in balance. So, there is a sense of relief that I’ll never have to look into my children’s faces to tell them we knew, but we didn’t do enough to stop it.

 

 

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A.V. Walters

The rains have come. Those first showers over a week ago, have worked their magic. At first it was just a blush–a wisp of color if you caught it at the right angle. Now there’s no question, our hills are turning green. It’s a funny dynamic that our gardening season is the opposite of our green season. Still, after months of dead brown hills it’s a relief to the eye to see this transformation. There are still goodies from the garden, they’ll go on until the hard frosts hit. This is the seasonal pause, the green relief in still fine weather, before the storms and cold come. It’s a pleasure to work outside in the cool, sometimes grey days.

I’ll be posting a little less frequently this month. I am, after all, fully committed to NaNoWriMo. It could be that Editor Rick picks up the slack. He’s undertaking those end-of-season projects, readying for winter, seed-saving (he’s so organized), tool management, and soon, pulling buckets. All that stuff that I let lag until the storms force my hand. My head is miles and decades away, weaving the fabric of a 1931 speakeasy in Detroit. Outside, the creeping green is putting me in the mood with the intense colors of my childhood. While California is lovely, it is difficult to go without green for five or six months of the year. I’m not saying I miss snow (though sometimes, I do) but I do welcome the return of green.

It’s less than a week to the election–don’t forget to vote. If you’re here in California, and if you value good food and informed choice, remember to vote for Proposition 37. Let’s get those GMO foods labeled.

I’ll pull my head out of fiction at least once a week, to give you the what’s up in Two Rock.

All our efforts have paid off, but this is only the beginning of the fight. In November, Californians will get to vote on whether or not genetically modified foods must be labeled in their state. This spring the California Right to Know (GMO) initiative effort collected 971,126 signatures in support of the measure, almost twice the number needed to qualify for November’s ballot. A broad coalition of organizations came together to launch this statewide referendum that will require that any genetically modified foods, or products containing genetically modified ingredients, be labeled in the marketplace.

Who worked for this? Volunteers fanned out across the state. We are gardeners, organic farmers, health professionals, scientists, parents and regular people who are concerned about the inevitable consequences when ‘Frankenfoods’ are released into the food chain and into the environment. The public support for the labeling movement is enormous, even in this divisive political year. A National poll taken by the Mellman Group found that 91% of Americans favor labeling of GMO foods. (see website http://www.labelgmos.org/)

But it’s not over yet. We still need to win in November. GMO seeds and their companion chemicals are big business and those corporate interests aren’t going to go away without a fight. Already, the storm clouds are on the horizon. Despite overwhelming public support, every similar measure across the country has been defeated in the last weeks before the vote, flooded with corporate money and disturbingly inaccurate PR. They paint us as anti-farmer! The nerve! Just watch the airwaves; we will be inundated with the tragic tales of farmers who need GMOs to get by. We’ll be told that GMO technology is essential to feeding the world. We’ve heard it all before. This initiative isn’t anti-farmer. It doesn’t ban GMO products. If farmers and food producers want to grow and use these products in our food, they just need to tell us. This bill is about transparency and our right, as consumers, to know what we’re eating. We’ve proven with other food labeling that consumers use the information on those labels, and that providing that information isn’t prohibitively expensive to producers. When we win, California will be the first state to successfully protect its consumers’ right to know.

This country was founded on the idea that, in the marketplace of ideas, the best will rise to the top. For that to work, we, as voters and as consumers, need to have the information to make our own decisions. That’s what labeling is about. It’ll be a big fight, but I think we’re up to it. Almost a million people signed the petition. If you believe in this, talk about it, tell your friends, volunteer. I can’t imagine any good reason why labeling isn’t a good idea. After all, if what they’re pandering isn’t sinister, why are they afraid to tell us what’s in it?

A.V. Walters

Clarification

In my last post I expressed my support for labeling of GMO products in the food supply. In particular, I am advocating for the current referendum in California which would mandate such labeling. The responses have been interesting.

So, to start, my position is based on the premise that we have a right to know what’s in our food. Though there’s plenty of detailed information supporting the measure, I don’t think we need to go there in order to make the point. Yes, I am aware of the studies showing GMO residues in the umbilical cord blood of Canadian newborns; I know about the German study on alarmingly concentrated levels of GMO residues in the urine of adults; I know about the danger of GMO contamination of adjacent croplands; and, yes, I know about the danger to bees posed by both GMO (especially BT products) and current pesticides. I know these things–but I don’t think that we need to get into a science argument in order to support these measures. (Please, you don’t need to win me over, I know. You needn’t educate me with studies and websites.) After all, you’ve seen just how far arguing science gets us in the climate change debate.

These days nobody questions the right to know how much sodium a food processor puts in their frozen pizza. It’s accepted as a natural fact that we can–and indeed must–look at the labels to determine what foods meet our personal dietary objectives. This GMO measure is just an extension of that widely accepted principle. Go to the grocery store and watch the patrons looking at the labels (often squinting at the small print, with arms outstretched.) Labeling works. We get the data we need to make informed choices. It’s that simple. What’s the argument?

Now, can I get back to the farm? It is, after all, spring in Two Rock.