Farmers lost in the Monsanto, GMO debate

farmercornThere are a lot of arguments on both sides of the genetically modified organism (GMO) debate.  GMOs are harmful…  GMOs are not harmful, et cetera.  Most of these arguments go around in circles as each side is convinced that they are right.  Each side has their own biased data to prove their point.

Today, I’m not going to wade into that debate, really.  I am going to focus my comments on farmers and the Monsanto controversy on this, the international day to protest the American agribusiness powerhouse.

I’ve seen a number documentaries and articles, which include compelling evidence and testimony from farmers themselves, that the Monsanto monopoly is a burden to the family farm.

I have a great respect for farmers.  They feed all of us.  They feed the cities, the politicians and business people.  Yet, when it comes to obtaining some benefit from the best high-yield crops, farmers have to pay through the nose.

You see, in order to be competitive in the agricultural business, farmers need to plant the best crops from the best seed.  The best seed is also the most expensive because they have been engineered by companies such as Monsanto.

If they do use these seeds, and their crops happen to sprout their own seeds, they cannot plant the offspring seed or risk ending up in court.  Since the beginning of agriculture, farmers have always been able to plant, harvest, reuse and share their seeds.  But in today’s agricultural business, this tried and true method of farming is next to impossible given the patents that are held on the seed.

Monsanto and companies like it wield a very litigious business philosophy.  They won’t hesitate to take any farmer to court no matter how big or how small their operations to enforce their biological patents.  Family farms have been ruined by the heavy hand and deep pockets of the world’s largest agribusiness companies.

We’re talking soybean and corn, folks.  Crops that can be found in thousands of other food products that end up on our tables each and every day.  Whether you are for or against GMOs, you eat them.

I’m not advocating for the socialization of farming and agribusiness.  But lawmakers need to work harder to protect farmers.  Courts and public policy have focused more on protecting patents and big agribusiness than they have on protecting farmers.

We need more fair and sustainable models of agribusiness so farmers can obtain benefit from larger crop yields so they can turn a profit and feed us fat cats.

For the opponents of GMOs, I’d caution on your use of the broad tar brush.

Everyone, especially farmers, benefit from larger crop yields, healthier grains and plant resistance to insects and disease.  A successful farmer means more food for all of us.  A successful farmer means they stay in business and that means that someone is tending to the soil.

DandelionWe need farmers to feed the masses who live in ever growing, expanding urban centres.  While cities are sprawling, farmland is shrinking.  The reality is, we all need the scientific, biological and genetic benefit we can to maximize production of food.

We also need to further encourage food research and agricultural science.  There are as many benefits as there are concerns.  We can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Remember, science has eradicated some diseases and made us immune to others.  I have no doubt that science will someday cure cancer and diabetes, and you can bet the farm, that those miracle breakthroughs will come through genetics and pharmaceutical science.

At the same time, we need to balance that with the need for food safety.  I still have confidence in Health Canada but they have let us down in the past.  We need more public investment in inspection, monitoring, enforcement, food research and an eye on the GMO industry.  We also need to find a way to create a labeling system for those who choose not to consume GMO products.

Until such time, we all have a choice.  For those with GMO concerns, there are a lot more organic choices than ever before.  There are also plenty of farmer’s markets where I encourage you to get to know and support your local producers.  Shop local and you won’t go wrong.

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