Aquaponics and the 2012 Election – Part 2 GMO’s and Farmer’s Rights
In last week’s post, I focused on what I viewed as the good news for aquaponics from the 2012 elections. This week I’ll address the other side of the coin, specifically the rejection of California’s Proposition 37 GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) labeling referendum and the passage of the Farmer’s Rights amendment to the North Dakota State Constitution. It is true that neither of these directly affect aquaponics as an industry per se. Further, neither the bills themselves nor their proponents and detractors ever even mentioned aquaponics. None-the-less, I am still concerned. Why? Because the passage of these bills suggests a current voter mindset that is antithetical to the values that myself, and most aquaponic farmers and gardeners hold dear.
First, let’s explore the defeat of the GMO labeling referendum. The term “GMO” is broad, and the technology used to alter the genome of plants and animals can, and probably will, have a wide range of uses in our lifetime. The primary use so far, however, has been Monsanto creating seeds to grow crops referred to as Round-Up Ready. Round-Up Ready crops can be sprayed with the company’s proprietary herbicide, Round-Up (glyphosate), killing the surrounding weeds but not the planted crops. Currently, up to 86 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered as is 93 percent of soybeans and canola seeds and 88 percent of cotton (cottonseed oil is often used in food products). Estimates indicate that upwards of 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves–from soda to soup, crackers to condiments – contain genetically engineered ingredients. Many of us in horticultural and LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) professions find this trend deeply disturbing for a number of reasons. Food plants designed to withstand poison is simply a worry for the environment that grows the plants and for the people who consume them. Some believe evidence is emerging that connects GMO and glyphosate consumption with increased rates of cancer, autism, allergies, and other health problems. Further, the offending weeds are now showing resistance to Round-Up and “super weeds” are beginning to emerge. To make matters worse, Monsanto, in its quest to dominate these seed markets and others, appears on a mission to file patents on many of the food seeds that are in common agricultural use. This is having deleterious effects on the genetic diversity of our global seed stock. Bottom line – in my opinion, genetically modified crops so far, net out to a bad thing.
But Prop 37 in California wasn’t even about whether or not you believe that GM crops do more harm than good. All that the proposition called for was mandatory labeling of products containing genetically modified content so that consumers could make informed buying decisions. Over thirty countries now have such laws in place. The U.S. and Canada are among the few industrialized counties that do not either ban GMO’s outright or insist that they be labeled. (Click here to see which countries do and what their laws look like). Why not? My strong guess is because Monsanto is head-quarted in the U.S. and exerts an enormous amount of power here. And the sad truth is that voting on the referendum in California was unduly and adversely influenced because the pro side was outspent over 5 to 1 by the “Vote No” side ($45 million vs. $8 million spent). The “Vote No” campaign’s biggest supporter was, of course, Monsanto, which threw more than $8 million into efforts to defeat the measure. Dupont, Pepsico, Bayer, Dow and Syngenta were also big funders of the opposition, with each contributing at least $2 million.
Consumer rights: 0, Mega Corporate Interests: 1.
Then there is the passage of the Farmers Rights constitutional amendment in North Dakota. By just its name alone, you would think that this would be a bill you could get behind. How could giving rights to farmers be a bad thing? Well, if you have a chance to read deeper into the text of the bill, you will discover that it essentially blocks any law “which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices.” This includes creating plenty of legal ground to circumvent animal rights and environmental laws. In fact, the referendum arose as a reaction to the Humane Society protesting transport conditions for chickens and pigs in North Dakota.
Animal Rights and the Environment: 0; Mega Farms and Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs): 1.
So what does any of this have to do with aquaponics and aquaponic farming? Despite all the talk about organic, local, and sustainable that aquaponics embraces, the outcome of these two elections reminds us how far we still have to go. In these states, at least, we are still willing to be led by the mega-corporations and industrialized factory farming complex if it means that we will have cheaper food. This is in the face of both the fact that we pay less for our food here in the U.S. than just about anywhere else in the world, and the mounting evidence that “cheap food” may have long-term health and environmental effects with huge costs.
Aquaponic farming is a long way from being the cheapest solution to growing food, especially in a market that includes government subsidies, protectionist laws, and where the true cost of environmental degradation is hidden. Aquaponic farming shines in a world that values safe, organically-grown food, the ethical treatment of animals and the environment, and that understands that resources, such as water, are limited. I hope that this is just a small step backwards in an ultimately successful journey to a fully sustainable, secure, and healthy food supply.
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