Tilling the soil in 2012, part 1

Honey Bee

With Monsanto, the bees are dying. And without bees, we're dead. So Monsanto has got to go. Photo: Cygnus921 via Flickr.

It’s all in a day’s work for family farmers of the 21st century:  Colony Collapse Disorder, dealing with Monsanto’s threats, global warming disasters, the government crackdown on family farms, genetically-engineered crops.

Where once American plowmen had merely to contend with unpredictable weather, infertile soil, inaccessible water supplies, poverty, accidents and disease, today’s food producers face a further cornucopia of sophisticated and bewildering attacks from all sides. That fewer than one percent of Americans want to wrestle a crop from abused soil, while attempting to anticipate how global warming or ailing honeybees may thwart them, should surprise no one.

Nonetheless, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is calling for hundreds of thousands of new farmers nationwide.

Assuming a new crop (sorry) of fresh-faced novices can surmount the double whammy of little affordable land and even less capital, what else awaits them, in as uncertain a future as humankind has ever confronted? We’ll consider the “easy” problems first. The 800 pound gorilla – climate change – will just have to wait.

Cole Porter was right: Bees do it – or used to

Back in the early 1990’s, I began subscribing to a beekeeper’s magazine (the title of which I’ve long since forgotten), thinking it could serve as an introduction to my latest enthusiasm. That was a smart move on my part, because the editors were pulling no punches. My surprise and disappointment at what I read caused my curiosity about this potential new hobby to ebb quickly. The long and the short of it was, something was wrong. Speculation at the time centered largely on bee parasites and viruses. What was happening in the bee world that was causing such widespread concern? It’s still hard to believe, but entire colonies of bees were, and are, simply disappearing.

Hence the name, Colony Collapse Disorder.

While early research focused on pathogens, a recent Purdue University study is only one of a growing number that have isolated pesticides as a primary culprit. One in particular, Clothianidin, is considered highly suspect. Clothianidin is used to treat seeds. It’s absorbed by the resulting plant’s vascular system, and proceeds to damage the central nervous system of bees that collect its pollen. Heightening the likelihood of Clothianidin’s role in the still-unfolding tragedy is the fact that it is widely used to treat genetically-engineered corn. Purdue University’s research shows that bees do indeed forage in the treated corn.

The plot thickens

Not only that. It now appears planter exhaust is loaded with Clothianidin, and, during spring planting, spreads it far and wide. Researchers found the pesticide in nearby unplanted fields, on dandelions in close proximity, in dead bees below the entrance to their hives, and in pollen stored in the hives.

Almond and blueberry farmers are especially worried, because their crops must be pollinated by honey bees, along with at least 68 other crops that are equally dependent upon the tiny insects. Though the EPA approved Clothianidin, even after their own research pointed to its toxicity, there is growing hope amongst beekeepers that, once the national election is behind us, the pesticide’s use will be reconsidered. One can only lament the fact that doing the right thing has to wait on politics.

Corporate monsterhood (Monsantohood?)

Raise your hand if you’ve never heard of Percy Schmeiser. Fifteen years ago, Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer, discovered that genetically-modified (GMO) rapeseed grown by a neighboring farmer had contaminated his crop, thereby ruining the seeds so carefully developed by his family over a 50-year period. This, as you might imagine, was not cause for rejoicing.

Insult was subsequently added to injury when, to Schmeiser’s consternation, he was informed that he was the defendant in a lawsuit brought by Monsanto against him! It was Monsanto’s contention that their GMO seeds belong to them no matter where they grow or how they got there. In essence, they claimed, Schmeiser’s crop belonged to Monsanto.

Wait, it gets better.

Monsanto sued the Schmeiser’s for a million dollars. Nothing could satisfy the corporate behemoth’s insatiable craving for control including putting the Schmeiser’s out of business.

And that’s not all. Monsanto sued to seize the Schmeiser’s land and equipment. The Canadian Supreme Court wouldn’t allow that, and called for legislation to regulate the use of genetic materials.

Percy and Louise Schmeiser’s lives were taken over by Monsanto’s megalomania and greed for ten years, and that’s still not all. As it turns out, the Schmeiser’s weren’t alone. Between the years 1997 and 2010, 144 farmers were sued by Monsanto. Seven hundred more have settled out of court for undisclosed sums.

Justice, justice, shalt thou pursue

Is there no justice, you ask? That remains to be seen.

On March 29, 2011, family farmers filed suit against Monsanto in what is sure to become a landmark case, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) et al v. Monsanto. On January 31 of this year, the first phase of litigation began.

Plaintiffs (family farmers) will ask that they be protected from genetic trespass by Monsanto’s GMO seed, and from the subsequent abusive lawsuits. Monsanto has, in fact, caused dozens of farmers to file for bankruptcy, as a result of their illegitimate claims.

Can family farmers withstand this never-ending onslaught? Stay tuned for the concluding portion of my article. Government interference is still on the docket, along with the ultimate game changer – climate change. If you like to eat, you’ll want to learn how American good-guy farmers plan to prevail.

–Vicki Lipski, Transition Voice

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Comments

  1. says

    Hi Jonathan –

    You know, I truly think a company like Monsanto is so badly off course in its business dealings that it’s only a matter of time before they implode. “What goes around, comes around,” and that’s bad news for Big M, because the bad karma is piling up. Besides that, creating a life form that you intend to keep under wraps is an oxymoron. Life is wild and free and goes where it pleases – just ask Percy Schmeiser! Yes, farmers absolutely should take Monsanto to court; it will speed their demise. Just realize that Monsanto is one corporate monster that’s damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

    Keep faith with good folks,
    Vicki

  2. says

    Hi JP -

    I suspect you are engaging in at least mild hyperbole; while Monsanto, Dow, Dupont, BASF, Syngenta, et al., line more than a few congressional pockets so that they can enjoy their ill-gotten gains, I don’t think our court system is their wholly-owned subsidiary – yet. You might be interested in reading the brief article found here: http://www.fwi.co.uk/articles/06/02/2013/137518/us-farmers-may-stop-planting-gms-after-poor-global-yields.htm . Nature, as it turns out, may know just a bit more about how to make things grow (or not grow) than corporations do.

    Keep faith with good folks,
    Vicki

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