30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Biotechnology, Again

My Generation

Day 5: What's up with Indian suicides, French rats, evil Monsanto and the Third World? Let's just take a look.

Published on: November 5, 2012

So, California votes on Proposition 37 tomorrow. And while we talked about biotechnology and genetically-modified seeds last week, it appears there's still more ground to cover. Because as discussions regarding GM seed and labeling of GM products continue to develop, a common thread regarding research continues to emerge.

Specifically, I see these four areas come up when consumers are concerned about their GM crops:

Farmer Suicides in India

Rats in France

Monsanto is Evil

GM Seed Bad for Third World

So let's take them one at a time.

Famer suicides in India: in a nutshell, GM activists claim poor crop performance by GM seed in India has caused farmers to commit suicide. Really, this is an old story, with Prince Charles himself getting on board four years ago to speak of "the truly appalling and tragic rate of small farmer suicides in India, stemming in part from the failure of many GM crop varieties." Again, this was four years ago, and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) conducted a large scale study that revealed it was all a lot of hooey. "Despite the recent media hype around farmer suicides," the report added, "fuelled by civil society organisations and reaching the highest political spheres in India and elsewhere, there is no evidence in available data of a 'resurgence' of farmer suicide in India in the last five years."

Further, it showed a massive increase in yield and a 40% decrease in pesticide use. A follow-up study in 2012 by IFPRI showed that Bt cotton was responsible for 19% of India's total cotton yield growth.

And yet, the story has gotten legs again, I would guess because of the Prop 37 vote in California.

Rats in France: You know, I can see what this one has gotten traction. Rats with super giant GM-fueled tumors growing from their heads? Those are the kinds of phrases activists dream of. But even other French scientists couldn't get on board with it. The New York Times reported last month that France's six scientific academies issued a "rare joint statement" dismissing the rat study. The leader of the study, Gilles-Eric Seralini, is known in France as an anti-GM crusader and has been criticized in the past for his flawed science.

A sample of the language from the rare joint statement, which used withering terms to dismiss the study as "a scientific non-event": "Given the numerous gaps in methods and interpretation, the data presented in this article cannot challenge previous studies which have concluded that NK603 corn is harmless from the health point of view, as are, more generally, genetically modified plants that have been authorised for consumption by animals and humans. Hyping the reputation of a scientist or a team is a serious misdemeanour when it helps to spread fear among the public that is not based on any firm conclusion.”

The European Food Safety Authority agreed, saying the study's weak methodology and statistics rendered it "of insufficient scientific quality for safety assessment."

Monsanto is Evil: Honestly, this seems to fall under the thought process that says, "If I don't agree with them, I must hate them." I don't get that, but it's certainly common. (Maybe you've heard about an election going on tomorrow?) Whether or not you agree with them, you have to admit they wholeheartedly believe in developing better products and increasing yields. Take the One Hundred Meals project, for example. If you read nothing else today, click here and read the observations of a strident anti-Monsanto consumer following her visit to Monsanto. As it turns out, there are real people who work there who have real lives and real families and are actually good people. I would agree.

Certainly, my ag journalist friends have discussed for years how much better GM crops would have originally been received all around the world if those first benefits had been to the consumer instead of to the farmer. But today, take a look at their work in soybean oil, broccoli and drought-tolerant corn.

GM Seed is Bad for Third World: I learned during my time in Sweden that third-world African countries can and do have very strong opinions about GM crops. I respect that and I respect their right to make that choice. But back here in America, the land of the plenty, let's at least have our facts straight when talking about those countries and their crops. Carl Pray at Rutgers University has studied the effects of GM crops on China, India and South Africa since the 1990s. The upshot? He's actually found longer life spans due to biotech.

In the end, I really very strongly definitely believe people should have the right to choose the food they want to eat. But please. If you're a Californian and you're still studying Prop 37, please look at real science from organizations that aren't fronting for activists. Make an informed decision. That's something any farmer can get on board with.



The archives: 30 Days on a Prairie Farm

Kickoff: 30 Days on a Prairie Farm

Day 1: Working Kids

Day 2: Biotechnology

Day 3: Harvest Eats

Day 4: Church

Day 5: Biotechnology, Again

Day 6: Long Haul

Day 7: Hormones

Day 8: Weather

Day 9: Milk

Day 10: County Fairs

Day 11: Harvest

Day 12: Technology

Day 13: Show Ring

Day 14: Leave the Farm

Day 15: Dialogue

Day 16: Store Grain

Day 17: Love

Day 18: Kid Love     

Day 19: Straight Rows

Day 20: Antibiotics

Day 21: Bottle Calves

Day 22: Relationship

Day 23: Big Fun

Day 24: Dogs

Day 25: Family

Day 26: Cattle

Day 27: Sustainability

Day 28: Chemicals

Day 29: Organic

Day 30: Future


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