Farmers warn of GE crops

They may have left their daughters at home, but two Midwestern farmers did bring plenty of statistics to bolster their claims that cultivating genetically engineered crops is ultimately bad for American farmers.

The farmers, Bill Wenzel from Montana and Dan McGuire of Nebraska, who spoke at a public presentation Monday evening, Sept. 20, in the City Council chambers, both stated up front they were not here to endorse or condemn Measure D, which if passed by voters in November would ban the use of GE crops in Butte County but leave Chico State and Butte College exempt from the ban.

The men’s visit was sponsored by Californians for GE-Free Agriculture, “a coalition of sustainable-farming, environmental and consumer organizations united to prevent genetically engineered agriculture in California,” according to the press release announcing the event.

GE crops, like those created by Monsanto, have gene splices that makes them tolerant to pesticides, the idea being that a farmer can spray and kill weeds but not the crops. The farmers who buy into the program must use only the GE seeds and Monsanto’s pesticide Roundup and agree not to collect seeds at the end of the growing season, as is the age-old method, but rather buy new GE seeds each year from the company.

Wenzel, director of the Farmer to Farmer Campaign on genetic engineering, said soy, corn, cotton and canola GE crops were first introduced in the Midwest in 1996 and cotton in the South the same year.

“They were introduced as an economic salvation,” he said, promising greater yields and less use of pesticides. “It was a win-win situation.”

A couple years later the Farmer to Farmer Campaign was launched and learned through talking with farmers that the experience with GE was different than what was promised. In fact, GE crops proved to be more expensive, and the herbicide-tolerant plants have less yield.

BT crops, those with genetically implanted insecticides, did show yield improvement of about four or five bushels of corn per acre. But the herbicide-tolerant seeds used extensively by soy farmers showed a reduced yield of from 6 to 11 percent. In 2001, the Farm Journal reported Roundup-Ready soy showed a 15 percent drop in yield compared to conventional soy.

Those numbers held up for other crops in thousands of other studies. A University of Arkansas study showed that GE plants had difficulty absorbing nitrogen, which led to yield drops of up to 25 percent in times of drought.

He mentioned that the weeds that grow near the herbicide-tolerant plants, those that can take a large dose of Monsanto’s Roundup, were becoming more tolerant of the herbicide, creating a super weed.

“The GE technology is cross-pollinating with the weed species,” he said. “I understand Monsanto is looking to develop a new mix that contains other pesticides that they will patent and require farmers to buy and use.”

Farmers who’ve used the biotechnology have seen their neighbors sued by corporations like Monsanto for unauthorized use of a licensed product because the GE crops pollinated the neighbor’s fields.

In fact, he said, farmers continue to use the GE seeds for fear that, should they quit, “two years down the road Monsanto will come knocking on their door to find residual crops from Monsanto seeds and they will get sued and lose the farm. It’s not worth the risk.”

McGuire talked about foreign markets and said because Europe and Japan do not want GE corn, Brazil and China are emerging as the leading corn exporters. But the U.S. continues to push GE crops.

"Arrogant U.S, export policy does not work," he said. "If it did, the U.S would not have to threaten other countries with [World Trade Organization] lawsuits if they don’t buy GEs."