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Farmers Rage Against The Machine

Last week we published a blog post which outlined a pretty far-fetched, but thoughtful, plan to reform US agriculture. The premise placed the ball in the hands of conventional farmers. Ultimately, it is the farmers who control our food. They grow it. If they were given a strong enough incentive to stop farming with chemicals then the Monsanto’s and Dow’s of the world would be brought to their knees.

It may not be that far-fetched. The toxic climate of chemical farming is finally becoming even too much for the conventional, vegetable farmers. Many of them have formed a coalition, Save Our Crops, to fight the USDA approval for a new genetically modified corn seed that is resistant to the biggest and baddest herbicide of them all, “2, 4-D.” Sounds more like a character from Star Wars than something we would put on out food unless of course Heinz has added a 58th variety.

Like most petroleum-based, synthetic pesticides and herbicides, 2, 4-D has a litany of detrimental health effects, i.e. cancer, neurotoxicity, endocrine disrupters, etc. But it’s not the health effects that have the farmers up in pitchforks, it is the environmental and crop degradation that the super-herbicide will cause. 2, 4-D is a pretty intense chemical. It is a descendent of the bio-warfare chemical, Agent Orange. When applied, 2, 4-D can drift from commodity crops over to neighboring vegetable crops which are NOT resistant; especially broad-leafed crops like tomatoes, green beans, peas, squash, pumpkins, melons, grapes and other fruits.

Farmers are starting to see the toll that these stronger applications are having on their land’s fertility. On one hand, 2, 4-D could destroy a neighboring, conventional specialty-crop in one drift and on the other hand, it could initiate a slow death for the commodity farmer who with each application is chipping away at their land’s yield potential.

“Save Our Crops” could help unify the conventional, farming community bringing together commodity farmers (grains, soy and corn) who want to combat mega-weeds and specialty crop growers (vegetables) who don’t want to see their crops damaged by herbicide drift. Together, they have invested interest to protect their livelihood and their shared, local economy. The result will be alternatives that work for both. Go farmers!

Perhaps the tide is turning. And conventional farmers will start integrating more sustainable farming methods into their practice.

After I read about Save Our Crops, it turned my attention back to the grassroots movement working to get GMO foods labeled (genetically modified organisms).

Underlining the initiative is our civil right to know what’s in our food. But it’s more than just a label and a civil rights issue. A GMO label could mark the beginning of the end for conventional agriculture as we know it. Think about it…overnight, millions of people will stop buying products with this label. The label will turn people off and steer them towards other options, hopefully more organics ones. BIG ag will have to adjust to the market trend and consider alternative growing methods which don’t require GMOs.

Granted, people still smoke cigarettes even though the surgeon general says not to. But drugs and food are different. Drugs are optional, food is not. People know the inherent risk with drugs but proceed anyway. In general, people trust food believing it is safe if it is for sale. In the case of food, knowledge can be a dangerous thing. A GMO label would carry a powerful message. I’m glad that the organizations behind this campaign is not promoting this hidden agenda but I have to believe that they see the watershed moment before them like I do. It will be a sneak attack!

With the conventional farmers on one flank with Save Our Crops and consumers on the other with Just Label It, we might just have found a way to wage this war.