Monday, July 5, 2010

Seeds; Weapons of Mass Destruction

This is my latest offering in the Friday Am paper. Judging by the feedback on the street and folks talking to me at our farmers market stand it would appear it had the desired effect and got folks talking and thinking. I have had a lot of questions and was surprised how little folks understand of the issue, scary!

Seeds, weapons of mass destruction?

With the earth quake in Haiti but a distant memory for most of the world I noticed a small story in this week’s news which will be overlooked by most news syndicates and deliberately ignored by the larger politically sensitive ones. It concerns a series of protests by Haiti’s farmers and one in particular where 10,000 farmers gathered to protest the donation of seed from the American company Monsanto to the islands farmers. This seed, some 400 tons would be free and distributed to all the farmers to help them after the destructive quake.
Now at first glance these farmers may seem like an ungrateful bunch, as the world and relief agencies pour goods and money into the island, they seem to behave like a bunch of spoilt brats. Sadly this is no doubt the way main stream media will portray it, if they tell it at all. The truth, as always requires some digging in the dirt, much like looking for tasty sweet new potatoes.
The farmers should be congratulated for their stand as they set an example for us farming in North America. We should have done what they are now doing many years ago and perhaps Genetically Modified crops would have been left in the laboratory and forgotten about.
The seed, as Monsanto is quick to point out is not GM seed, but “regular hybrid” seed. They are not forcing any one into contracts or selling their seed, it’s just a friendly helpful donation of hybrid seed. To put this in simple terms remember the humble Mule, draught horse of share croppers, freed slaves and poor tenant farmers in the States. The mule kept these folks down, as when the mule was old and wore out you had to buy a new one. The mule is a cross between a horse and a donkey and cannot reproduce just like a John Deere tractor can’t make new little J D’s.
Hybrid seed is the same, a cross between two varieties which can not reproduce it’s self. Most corn and a large amount of vegetables are like this, the seed must be produced by the seed grower each year and the farmer has to buy fresh seed each spring. This has been the norm in main line agriculture for many years. Only the stubborn and old timers have used and saved open pollinated seed, which can reproduce year after year. This though is normal practice in many places in the so called “developing world” and ensures the survival of the farmer through easily accessible seed and varieties suitable to his area. In turn this gives a reliable food security to the nation as a whole. “Developing” my a__’ they are further along in their development than us! Huge tracts of land are seeded to hybrids and once the farmers were used to buying seed every year it was easy to sell them GM seed along with restrictive contracts and eventual draconian servitude to the one all powerful seed company that controls the seed, fertiliser, farmers, markets and end product at the retail level. This is the ultimate; you control all the land and the crops on it with out ever owning or paying taxes on the land. Coupled with monopoly in the markets and the backing of the most powerful nation on earth, it’s a dream come true for power hungry dictators, Genghis Khan would love it! To take it one step further and possibly into the realms of Science fiction. Once every one is eating GM food what’s to stop them putting “stuff” into the crop to make us sick so we buy medicine to help out the seed companies Pharmaceutical sister company with their profit margins. If elections are coming up and the populace seem to be unruly add a sedative in the corn to keep the masses subdued and manageable! It may sound crazy but sadly I can see this making “good business sense” to a group of ivory tower, profit hungry, bonus hunting CEO’s.
Back to the present in Haiti those protesting farmers know the score. After 200 years of outsiders controlling their island and its people, running off with the natural resources and easy money, leaving the locals perpetually poor and down trodden, they know the true nature of those seeds. They are weapons of Mass Destruction, a thin end of the wedge to pry away their freedom. They know that once they have lost the ability to grow their own food and save their own seed, they will be for ever at the mercy of the seed merchant and the country that backs him.
Here in Canada we are well down this road as government aids the “company” with confusing labelling laws, undisclosed ingredients and an almost open door policy to new GM crops. We farmers were slow to react when Hybrids showed up and are well down the dead end street of GM crop control. So what can you and I do?
I recently read Ernesto Che Guevara’s book Guerrilla Warfare, don’t panic, I am not heading to the hills with my shot gun to launch surprise attacks on the trains. It was interesting to see the heavy emphasis he places on getting along with the locals, helping them and forming community with them. It struck me we need to do more of this with consumers and producers of local food. Less talk and more walk so to speak at the local level. My last few weeks at the farmers market have been a great place to talk to consumers (as well as sell them some “freedom” food) about some of the issues and hear what they have to say. As for the walk, I produce natural grass fed meats and organically grow vegetables that are traditional open pollinated. I avoid corn and soy bean products in my animals feed and my own. The one thing my wife and I are doing more of is label reading in the grocery store. I strongly encourage you to read them and spend some time understanding what some of the “stuff” on the ingredient list is. True it’s scary and some times a little depressing, remember, knowledge is power and we are all in this together. Let’s work as a community of concerned consumers and become Guerrilla farmers and freedom fighter foodies!
So till next time, buy local as much as possible and read those labels, and remember to take your glasses shopping, that darned writing on the labels gets smaller every year!

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