Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Social Responsibility; GMO & Organic?

There's currently a measure on the table over at the FDA to authorize the growth of genetically modified crops of Alfalfa. This is a significant landmark situation for two reasons:

First of all, the FDA has been rubber-stamping genetically modified seeds for years and this is the first time a legal fight started by an activist group has stopped them in their tracks and forced them to use the proper approval process, which includes public commentary. This is going to set a great precedence where we actually get to help make the decision as the people who are eating the food.

The second reason this is a landmark event is because Alfalfa is a cover crop that's often planted in beds on the off-years and during the winter to give the ground time to rest and acquire nutrients. Alfalfa is an open-pollinated grass, which means that pollen will blow off of the Alfalfa fields and into other fields and pollinate other crops, producing second-generation crops with part of the DNA from the genetically modified Alfalfa, effectively contaminating the gene pool. For folks who are dead-set on eating 100% organic and non-GMO products, this is a nightmare.

I have a slightly different view on the matter. First of all, I do think that we have the right to know where our food comes from and how it was grown. That's what personal choice and American freedom is all about. If I were to choose to eat organic, I'd want to know that I'm truly doing so and not eating organically grown products that have been accidentally cross-bred with GMO crops.

My second opinion on the matter is that the politics behind GMO crops are just plain nasty and hurt the smaller, more quality-oriented farms. People don't realize this, but once you genetically alter a crop, you can patent the seed for that crop. Whenever another farm wants to grow from your seed, you are entitled to payment for using your patent and they pretty much have to buy the seed from you, the patent owner. You can't collect seed at the end of the year for re-use because they want their royalty fees. To make matters worse, there's basically only one company left, Monsanto, that owns the majority of the world's GMO seed patents. Monsanto is so large that they've got all the legal bullying power to put small farms out of business and they use it often and with a heavy hand.

Here's how it works. You're a small farmer that wants to grow non-GMO food. You plant your beds and the farm down the street that is using GMO seeds open-pollinates your field by mistake (the wind blows where it blows). You collect the seeds from your crop at the end of the year with the intention of using them again next year to save money. However, some dude from Monsanto knocks on your door and says, "Prove to us you're not collecting and re-using our genetically modified seeds." And of course, you can't because your seeds do indeed contain part of the genes from their seeds.

The small farmer then gets buried in legal paperwork by Monsanto until he can no longer afford to fight and has to close-up shop. Morally speaking, the farmer is every bit within his right--and probably legally speaking too. However, he doesn't have the money to go up against the giant, so legal or not, he loses.

Kinda sucks, doesn't it? Read more about it here and decide for yourself how you feel. If you feel as strongly about it as I do, be sure to submit your public comment to the FDA before the comment window closes on March 3rd.

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