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The following text appeared in the Toronto Star, June 28, 2002, p. A24.
Why we don't grow GM crops
by Ineke Booy
Martin and I came with two children to Canada in 1980 to make our livelihood on a mixed dairy and crop farm, with 65 cows and 600 acres of crops. We were full of enthusiasm and came with an open mind and expected to be respected for the role we played in Canadian society as food producers.
After the initial exciting time of adaptation to the new country, we started to learn about the politics of agriculture and food. There was this scam at the Chicago Board of Trade where the crop prices had been rigged, cheating many farmers out of a lot of money. There was the decline in the beef industry, devastating rural economies in southwestern Ontario. We realized that Canada was arguably the only developed country in the West that did not have a recognizable farm and food policy. We started to understand that this industry was mainly run by large corporations with direct connections to the federal and provincial governments.
Nothing new, you will say. Well, it was to us and it affected our personal and management decisions from there on. We were tired of filling the pockets of the transnational input companies. We cut our inputs and started using farming methods that build the soil and grow healthy crops without the chemical dependency.
The final push to go entirely organic came when a near disaster happened and our priorities became clear. Our 3-year-old had wandered into a shed where canola seed treated with the insecticide Counter had spilled out of a bag. He was playing with it as if it was the sand box with three dead kittens close by. Miraculously, he had not put anything in his mouth or he would have died, too.
This all culminated into our farming philosophy. Our personal health, environmental health, the issue of power and control, and decreasing the distance between the farmer and the consumer became our focus points. The first two speak for themselves and explain why we started farming organically. We discovered that, even though we stopped using artificial fertilizers and chemical pesticides, our yields were not significantly different and it saved us some $40,000 per year on inputs.
The power and control issue is directly connected to genetically modified, or GM, crops. When farmers buy GM seeds, such as for Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans, they sign a legal document pledging to not save any seeds from the resulting crop for the following year's planting. Monsanto investigators will come to the farm to check for compliance. What happened to the independent streak of farmers, you may think? It's all packed in by the psychology of advertising and the mantras of governments extolling the virtues of globalization, free trade and "there is no other way."
First of all, farmers are part of this society and no different in their reaction to societal tendencies than the general population. Most will throw their hands in the air exclaiming, "what can we do about it?" The government sees GM food as an economic opportunity and is investing heavily in it, with the paternalistic approach that it knows what is good for us, together with its transnational friends. No alternatives are offered or supported.
Organic farming, with its focus on working with nature, does not need the services of the input industry and does not show up as beneficial to the gross domestic product. The GDP, as an extremely narrow measure of wealth, only counts the money that goes from hand to hand. There is no value for clean air, clean water or good top soil. The re-evaluation of our wealth measuring system and adoption of a system that is based on full-cost accounting may well be the single most important change that will lead the way to true sustainability. Trying to get away from the big companies is not without peril, as GM products are classified as "substantially equivalent" to traditionally bred crops.
Genetic pollution is rampant in pollinated crops, especially canola, and farmers are losing out on market opportunities. If a bull escapes and breeds our prized cow, it is the owner of the bull who is responsible for the damage. If our neighbour grows a GM crop and the pollen drifts onto our crop making it non-organic, we don't have a way to recover this loss.
Our attempt to decrease the distance between producer and consumer has been fun and rewarding. We grow the crops for our animals, we milk the cows, take the cream off the milk and make ice cream. The skim milk is used for a low fat, high protein live cultured frozen yogurt. We communicate directly with many consumers through our little on-farm ice cream plant. What do we need genetically engineered crops for anyway?
Ineke Booy farms with her husband Martin de Groot and their four children near Rothsay, Ont.