2012- Year of the Drought and U.S. Farm Bill Reform

August 28, 2012

This past month I have given much thought to the current drought affecting much of the farmers in the Midwest right now. I have heard reports of fruit farmers in Michigan having the lowest harvest in years and honey bees dying from sudden temperature rises followed by a sudden frost. In Nebraska I learned from Columban Father Tom Glennon that the farmer’s corn is 1/3 the height it normally is and ranchers are having to sell of cattle because there is not enough feed to maintain them. The drought is certainly a great hardship for these farmers and ranchers, affecting their livelihoods and making produce much more expensive for families trying to put food on the dinner table.

Many farmers are looking to genetically engineered seeds as the solution. Major producers of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Genetically Engineered seeds (GE) such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill, and others are also working hard to ensure it is even easier to get bioengineered crops on the market. The drought has become a rallying point for more drought resistant seeds and the House of Representatives sees the 2012 Farm Bill renewal as just the vehicle to do it. One of the latest seeds that agribusiness is promoting is a seed called 2,4D. It contains dioxin, the chemical in Agent Orange that left many Vietnamese with deformities, Parkinson’s disease, tumors and other health conditions.

GE seeds and GMO crops are not the solution to end global hunger or ensure plants don’t die in future droughts caused by climate change. The Columbans know this better than anyone and committed in 2000 to focus on GMOs and GE seeds as a JPIC priority. To see a sample letter to stop the GE riders in the House version of the Farm Bill click here.

From a theological perspective, by altering the genetic makeup of a seed or plant, humans are directly interfering with God’s Creation and what God called “good.” Producers of GMO crops and GE seeds are interfering with the production of life itself. Read more about the Columban perspective on GE seeds here.

Secondly, from an economic justice standpoint, farmers now have to pay for these genetically engineered seeds that they used to get for free through seed saving and trading. Once they buy them, they have to pay annual licenses to continue to use them. Additionally, pests are smart too. As pests learn to adapt with these GE seeds, Monsanto just creates another seed that farmers will have to pay for that is resistant to the next pest when with non-GE seeds they may have been able to use more traditional methods to control pests such as integrated pest management (IPM).

In terms of the drought, one concern from scientists and advocates is that any new seeds may not be resistant to the whole drought cycle or a more intense heat wave. With climate change, we are likely to see more extreme weather events like this year’s drought in the Midwestern United States and the floods in the Philippines.

Lastly, one argument is that GMOs and GE crops help prevent world hunger. Yet today in the United States we can find many food deserts in areas with lots of farmland. That is because a lot of the farmland is used to grow soybeans, corn, and other plants used to feed livestock and produce ethanol- not to feed hungry families. We also have enough food to feed the world now, but it is not evenly distributed. If we learned to share the loaves and fishes as Jesus did, we might all live more abundantly.

Some states are being proactive to address GMOs and GE crops. California is holding a ballot referendum on Prop 367 to require GMO labeling on food for the November elections. This will ensure that consumers have the choice to know when they are buying a GMO or not. Currently agribusiness does not need to disclose this information. Agribusiness, including many corporate owned organic brands, opposes this bill. Perhaps it is because many of the owners of organic brands are owned by Kellogg, Cargill, General Mills, and others who benefit from GMOs.

Stopping the proliferation of genetically modified organisms and genetically engineered seeds was named a top Columban priority in 2000 and continues to be important in 2012. Working in farming communities around the world we know intimately the struggles farmers face to maintain traditional practices which are sources of not only economic stability but also nurture their cultural, social, and spiritual way of life.  We have an opportunity to do something. Send a letter to your member of Congress demanding that the House drop any GE provisions  in the Farm Bill that remove critical protections against GE seeds and interfere with the integrity of God’s Creation.

Link to the sample letter

Link this to the letter